ABC's 2019 Comedy Pilots, Ranked From Best to Worst

Vanessa Williams and Katey Segal are two of the big names vying for a slot.
  • Vanessa Williams in Happy Accident and Katey Segal in Nana
    Vanessa Williams in Happy Accident and Katey Segal in Nana

    It was bound to happen sooner or later and it seems the time is now: after many years of success, the “ABC Funny” brand of single-camera family-oriented comedies has hit a bit of a rough patch and may be headed for a slow death. It tfirst ook form back in 2009, when both Modern Family and The Middle started. They were joined over the years by other strong if more modest performers, including The GoldbergsFresh Off The BoatBlackish and American Housewife. Every single time they tried to deviate from the formula (Trophy WifeThe Real O’Neals) or totally go into other directions (Happy Endings, Don’t Trust the Bitch, Selfie, The Mayor), they got slapped in the face with terrible ratings. Most of those shows were good by the way, with the exception of some iconic failures like Work It and Super Fun Night.

    Now that everything has been made — from 70s, 80s and 90s settings —  to big pushes on diversity, the audience seems to have grown tired of all of them. The Middle is gone, Modern Family is soon to go. New entries Single Parents and The Kids are Alright started well before settling in at disappointing levels, and the sophomore season of Splitting Up Together is nothing to rave about. It leaves the network with really only one recent hit, The Conners, which itself has lost some steam since spinning off from Roseanne. ABC may think the answer is in the multicamera genre, which they've tried to revive to mixed results in recent years, with Last Man Standing (cancelled and now on FOX) and Cristela among others. From the nine pilots ordered, they've already passed on one spinoff: The Middle's Sue Sue In The City, which was probably not on-brand. They also have a second spin-off from modest performer Blackish, centered around Young Bow. Among the remaining comedy pilots are 4 are single cams and 3 are multicams. The number of comedies ordered will depend on whether ABC chooses to reduce its number of comedy slots. They may very well end up taking only one of each, as from the looks of things they've had a weak development season in the comedy department. Which leads to our script-based rankings:


    1. HAPPY ACCIDENT (20th Century FOX Television & ABC Studios)

    Set in Pittsburgh, two families — a father (Matt Walsh) with three adult daughters (JoAnna Garcia Swisher, Kether Donohue, Jessie Pinnick), and a hotel lounge singer (Vanessa Williams) with her med student son (Elliot Knight) — are forced together after a decades-old secret is revealed.

    Ordered off-cycle, Happy Accident may be ABC’s last chance to capitalize on Modern Family‘s lead-in to launch a new family comedy with potential. I wouldn’t consider this script as a no-brainer —  the story is predictable and it’s not laugh-out-loud funny — but it’s not bad , with a few sweet moments and good dialogue. It’s more adult-oriented than ABC’s usual fare, which may a good thing for the show, but could also make it a harder fit with the last comedies standing. It’s very diverse, blending a more traditional white family with a more ecentric African American one, and it includes a gay son and a tomboy daughter. The cast is probably the show's greatest asset. Vanessa Williams will go back to what she does best: being a queen diva. Veep‘s Matt Walsh is a nice get for ABC. We're always happy to watch Joanna Garcia, and You’re The Worst‘s revelation Kether Donohue (whom I consider the new Megan Mullally) could become the main attraction. So unless Happy Accident tests poorly, I can totally see it on the schedule next year. Whether it becomes a hit is a whole other question.

    2. UNTITLED JESSICA GAO PROJECT (ABC Studios, CBS Television Studios & Imagine Television)

    Janet Zhao (Holly Chou) is a first generation Chinese-American who struggles to set healthy boundaries with her crazy, exhausting family. When her wealthy grandmother dies and names Janet the sole beneficiary, she suddenly finds herself the unwilling new matriarch of the family she’s spent her life trying to keep at arm’s length.

    Written by Jessica Gao, who worked on Silicon Valley and who won an Emmy for the standout “Pickle Rick" episode of Rick and Morty, this pilot can totally and confidently surf on the succeess of last yuear's box-office smash Crazy Rich Asians. The plot is very similar,  although the genre is different since this one's more of a family comedy than a romcom. It’s fresh, funny, sometimes moving, and it sounds like something that comes from a place of respect and love for a community without being cheesy. Fresh Off the Boat became the first Asian family comedy in the U.S. in more than two decades. It would be nice to get a second now, and with one this promising, why not?

    3. HANNAH (ABC Studios)

    Hannah (Hannah Simone) and her Indian-American immigrant father have always been close, but after she admits to herself that she’s in a dead-end job and he reveals that his marriage is over, they’re starting over together. This new chapter will either make them crazy close or just plain crazy.

    I have nothing against Hannah Simone, but I’m not sure why ABC is so eager to give her a starring vehicle. Her The Greatest American Hero reboot  ast year was definitely not a good fit with the network. This one is said to be semi-autobiographical, but as written it's a weird and not entirely effective mix between a family single-cam and a romantic/girly comedy that 's not likely to resonate with a large audience. The daughter/father relationship dynamics are cute, but the rest is weak. It would be great to have a nontraditional Indian family at the center of a show, but I'm sorry to say it doesn't look like this is the one.

    4. WOMAN UP (20th Century FOX Television)

    Two former teen moms (Mary-Elizabeth Ellis & Tawny Newsome) worked their asses off to see their daughters  through high school graduation. Now, at 35, they’re ready to make up for the youth they never had.

    ABC, you’re supposed to do better than this. First, why is this a single-cam? It would have worked better as a multicam in the vein of 2 Broke Girls and Mom. Okay, ABC is not CBS and they probably couldn’t have found the right slot for it, but why are they ordering it in the first place? This is not a straight family comedy, although there are strong family elements, and those single mothers-teenage daughters relationships are not nearly as innovative as they want to be. Nobody remembers FOX’s one-season-and-done I Hate my Teenage Daughter, but it’s the same concept. ABC itself has had other very similar pilots in the past and with better scripts, including last year's Most Likely To. It might have had a chance with some recognizable faces in the cast, but as is, the network has better options.


    1. NANA (20th Century FOX Television & ABC Studios)

    After the death of his wife, an obsessive, overprotective dad (Josh Lawson) is forced to invite his brash and bawdy mother-in-law (Katey Sagal) into his home to help raise the two granddaughters she barely knows.

    I loved Nana! The pilot scvript made me think a bit of One Day At A Time, which was shamelessly cancelled by Netflix just a few days ago. It’s both (very) funny and emotional. Set in Minneapolis, it’s not about a wealthy family, but rather midwesterners having real problems. It’s easy to imagine it paired with The Conners, with a central character different from Roseanne but similarly irreverent, with lots of love to give in her own way. It’s so easy to close your eyes and imagine Katey Sagal knocking the part out of the park. She’s perfect for this. It would be a nice addition to ABC’s line up and it could help them expand their multicam stable.

    2. UNITED WE FALL (Sony Pictures Television)

    In this autobiographical story from writer Julius Sharpe, a couple (Will Sasso & Christina Vidal) struggles to achieve the ordinary with young children and an extremely judgmental mother (Jane Curtin) at home. 

    The writing here is strong: some lines and situations really made me laugh out loud. It’s a bit more racy than ABC’s current comedies (more realistic too), and with the right chemistry it could be a really enjoyable sitcom. The problem with United We Fall is that there’s no real hook.  It seems like a sitcom from 15 years ago, except it’s multicultural. It might do the trick behind The Conners, but Nana has a slight advantage because of Katey Sagal and a more modern feel. But again, the writing is top-notch.

    3. PASTORIZED (ABC Studios)

    Leslie and Hope (Leslie Odom Jr & Kelly Jenrette) are joint pastors at a young, hip, diverse church in Los Angeles. Through their services, online streams and books they are experts at uniting people across different races, genders, orientations and opinions. But when it comes to uniting the people in their blended family, the teachers often find themselves the pupils.

    This one is a real disappointment. The concept seemed fun and modern based on the pitch, but the jokes are pretty subpar. There’s a B story with the kids that's uninteresting and far too weak for a pilot. And it's not a good fit with The Conners. It would have been great for TV Land  when the channel still had original sitcoms on its roster. On ABC, it’s a huge pass.

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    Jean-Maxime Renault is a TV addict based in Paris who writes about television and movies on AlloCiné (aka "the French IMDB"). In 2015 he created Season Zero, a website about television development and pilot season, which is now a part of Primetimer. Follow him on Twitter @SeasonZeroCom

    TOPICS: ABC, Happy Accident, Nana, Pastorized, United We Fall, Woman Up, Hannah Simone, Jessica Gao