NBC's new comedy "Welcome to the Family" starts with an unfortunate image problem.
The series, which debuts Thursday (8:30 p.m. EDT), is about an aimless California girl from a middle class white family who is impregnated by the valedictorian son of a Latino family, both as they're about to graduate from high school.
In pre-premiere promotions, both of the grandfathers-to-be were depicted as hostile, frankly racist characters. A particularly crass sex joke was shown repeatedly. It was anti-advertising, the type of publicity that screams "stay away!"
During the pilot, it turns out Dan Yoder (played by Mike O'Malley) and Miguel Hernandez (Ricardo A. Chavira) had a past run-in that accounts for their mutual dislike. When Hernandez literally offers an injured Yoder a shoulder to lean on toward the end of the episode, it's the first sign they may become more than one-dimensional characters.
We're not sure about some of the others. Yoder's daughter Molly is essentially a dimwit, yet we're also to believe that she's a strong, committed feminist. Hernandez's smart son is pressed by his dad to be driven and detail-oriented, yet carelessly leaves birth control to chance.
And, yes, we get it. They had sex. When Junior Hernandez gallantly approaches Yoder to ask for his daughter's hand in marriage, he notes that he's already had more than her hand.
For the past few years, NBC's Thursday-night lineup was the place where hip, funny series like "The Office" and "30 Rock" labored in obscurity. The network's directive this year is to "go broad," and there are no jokes in "Welcome to the Family" that are likely to slip by anyone.
Just when you're about to dismiss it, though, there's a late plot twist that promises to take the story in an intriguing new direction.
Somewhere in this sitcom there's a beating heart.