'Life in Pieces' Stars Talk About the Show's New Approach to the Family Sitcom

by Dino-Ray Ramos 8:01 AM PDT, September 21, 2015
Photo: CBS

There's a new family on the TV scene. They're the Shorts and they're are changing the way we watch the traditional sitcom.

At first, CBS's new show, Life in Pieces, sounds like your typical portrait about a huge family and the special heartfelt and hilarious moments of their crazy lives. At the top of the Shorts' massive family tree are matriarch Joan (Dianne Wiest) and John (James Brolin) who have three grown-up children. Their eldest, Heather (Betsy Brandt), and her husband Tim (Dan Bakkedahl), have three kids and are considering another. Middle child Matt (Thomas Sadoski) may have found a future wife in his co-worker Colleen (Angelique Cabral). Then there's little brother, Greg (Colin Hanks), who is dealing with insanity of having a newborn with his equally overwhelmed wife, Jen (Zoe Lister-Jones).

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On Wednesday, ET sat down with the cast for an exclusive live table read of an upcoming episode titled, "Namaste Hospital Boudoir Time-Out." It may sound like the writers randomly chose words out of a hat to make the title, but for this show, it makes perfect sense.

As traditional as the show's premise sounds, it is a different direction for CBS. Known for multi-camera shows like Mom, 2 Broke Girls and their ratings juggernaut Big Bang Theory, CBS has yet to find success with a single-camera comedy. Bad Teacher, The Crazy Ones, and We Are Men were all canceled after one season when each failed to find an audience. Life in Pieces is the first of two new comedies that will attempt to capture similar success of other networks, such as ABC and Modern Family.

In fact, the new series comes from the minds of executive producer Jason Winer, who previously directed episodes for the ABC comedy, and creator Justin Adler (Better Off Ted, Samantha Who?). Since the genre is well established, Adler added another level of intrigue by breaking up the show into four separate stories -- almost like long-form, intertwining sketch scenes -- focused on different family members. This would explain the title of the aforementioned episode.

The four-pronged title goes with the quartet of stories told in the episode. The first is about John taking his grandchildren to a hippie vegan restaurant ("Namaste"). The second story follows Greg and Jen as they take an interesting trip to the emergency room ("Hospital") while the third has Heather giving a "sexy" anniversary gift to Tim ("Boudoir"). The final story is focused on Heather’s youngest daughter, Sophia (Giselle Eisenberg), after she is punished for saying a bad word ("Time Out"). It's a clever way to package a show for a TV audience that has become accustomed to the quick narratives of Snapchat and viral videos.

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The enthusiasm and chemistry the cast shared during the live read carried on with a special Life in Pieces pizza truck that handed out branded slices of pizza. "First time I've been on a pizza truck. Out of a box..." tweeted an excited Brandt.

After the TV family took pictures in front of the branded pizza truck, Hanks talked to ETonline about how the show's format attracted him to the project.

"When you're going through the onslaught of pilot season and you're reading so many different scripts, anything that really sticks out has to really grab your attention," said the 37-year-old actor, who was nominated for an Emmy for his performance in the first season of Fargo. "Life in Pieces not only grabbed my attention because of the structure of the show, which is really great and liberating in a lot of ways, but it was all funny."

Cabral agreed. "I read the script and I laughed, I cried -- it made me feel something. There's heart to it," she said. "This was my favorite script this pilot season for sure. There are several that I liked, but I kept coming back to this one."

Like Hanks, the 36-year-old actor was impressed by the show, calling it a "groundbreaking" foray into the single-camera world. The only thing she loved more was her character, Colleen.

"I was immediately drawn to the character -- she's so wacky!" Cabral gushed. "She's just like me. She's super-sweet, outgoing, optimistic, but kind of a hot mess. That's why everyone is going to relate to the show! That's how everyone is!"

The one thing that sets her character apart from the others is that she isn't officially part of the family. Colleen is Matt's girlfriend, but Cabral hopes that it will change real soon. "I hope we see Colleen and Matt navigate through the tumultuous tides of dating and hopefully end up together and get married," said Cabral. "I want to become part of the Short family!"

She probably won't be the only one. After watching the first episode of Life in Pieces, there are going to be plenty of people who will want to be part of the "short," irreverent moments of this growing family.

Life in Pieces premieres on Monday, Sept. 21 on CBS. Watch an exclusive sneak peek of the show below.