They say you can't go home again. Unless, for instance, you're a recently divorced mom whose only option is to move in with your parents after your ex-husband blows through your savings — which is the case for Polly (Sarah Chalke), the protagonist of ABC's new comedy How to Live with Your Parents (For the Rest of Your Life).
In the show's pilot episode, which airs Wednesday at 9:30/8:30c, Polly shows up on the doorstep of her freewheeling mother and stepfather (Elizabeth Perkins and Brad Garrett) with her 5-year-old daughter in tow. Here, we've put together a how-to guide of how to get a show like How to Live with Your Parents off the ground:
1. Write and act what you know. The series is based on the real-life experience of creator Claudia Lonow. "She showed up on her parents' doorstep and said, 'I hope it's not a bad time for you, 'cause it is for me,'" Chalke tells TVGuide.com. "And I love the character [Polly]. I really felt for her and rooted for her when I was reading the script. She's this single mom who wants nothing more than to be the best mom for her kid. And that's something that I could really relate to, because I have a 3-year-old. When you have a kid, it changes the way you live your life and the way you see the world." (For the record, according to Perkins, Lonow still lives with her parents — even though she has a daughter who's in college.)
2. Find the humor in a bad situation. Lonow's background is in stand-up, so she's stacked her cast with other comedians. "They're just some of the funniest people I've ever worked with," Chalke says. "When you're working with that many stand-up comedians in one room, it just feels really lucky and it's really fun." Chalke, who's best known for playing Dr. Elliot Reid on Scrubs, said reading the pilot script left her with the same feeling as her breakout gig. "It was so funny," she says. "It made me laugh out loud, but I felt really drawn into the characters and into their relationships. I felt like the show had so much heart."
3. Add a child actor who doesn't act like a child. Even with all the comedians in the cast, Chalke and Garrett agree the one actor who can consistently cause her colleagues to crack up during filming is Rachel Eggleston, who plays Polly's 5-year-old daughter, Natalie. (The rest of the cast can also rely on Eggleston to supply them with a forgotten line or missed cue, according to Garrett.) "I've never worked with a kid who's that talented as an actor," Chalke says. "Brad and I both said, we've never worked with a kid who's made us break on camera, like crack up laughing in the middle of a scene. She can improv. If you're doing a scene with her and you throw something out, she throws it back. She's really talented." Adds Garrett: "She's unbelievable. You work with a lot of kids in this industry, and a lot of them want to be on TV. But Rachel really wants to act, and she's so gifted. She's a natural. She's great."
4. Turn the traditional "nuclear family" model on its head. How to Live with Your Parents is the latest in a long line of comedies this season that highlight unconventional families, coming on the heels of series like The New Normal and Ben and Kate (RIP), not to mention its lead-in, Modern Family. "The whole definition of family is changing, and has for many years," Perkins tells TVGuide.com. "You can't just say, oh, this is what a family looks like anymore. There are many different incarnations of that. This is just one of them. This is three generations all trying to exist in the same house."
5. Create the most unconventional grandparents on TV. Suffice to say, Elaine and Max (Perkins and Garrett) are not your typical grandparents. "Thank God," Perkins deadpans. Elaine is based on Lonow's real-life mother, whom Perkins says she spent time with in order to prepare for the role. "Elaine is very much a wild child, sort of an aging wild child, who had a really good time in the '70s and the '80s and had a child and doesn't remember a whole lot about it," Perkins says. "The daughter moves back home, and Elaine sort of doesn't really know what to do with her at all." Which is another part of the show's unique spin on parent/child relationships. Elaine and Max aren't exactly thrilled when Polly shows up at their home unannounced (and interrupting a little afternoon delight, no less). "Usually on TV we see the parents always welcoming the kids back home, 'Oh, how great,'" Garrett says. "[Max and Elaine] are happy empty nesters, which is kind of what attracted me to the role of Max. We're unconventional because we like our life the way it is. We raised our daughter. We did the best we could. Not great, but everyone survived and made it. And now we're enjoying our mid-life and lo and behold, she's back with a little person." Notes Perkins: "It was nice to play a couple that's actually happily married. Most couples on television, they bicker. And we don't."
How to Live with Your Parents (For the Rest of Your Life) premieres Wednesday at 9:30/8:30c on ABC.