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'The Unicorn' review: The 'Dead Mom Sitcom' is alive and well

Walton Goggins stars in CBS' "The Unicorn."

Walton Goggins stars in CBS' "The Unicorn." Credit: CBS

SERIES "The Unicorn"

WHEN|WHERE Premieres Thursday at 8:30 p.m. on CBS/2

WHAT IT'S ABOUT Widower Wade Felton (Walton Goggins) lost his beloved wife, Jill, a year earlier. Now, his closest friends, Ben (Omar Benson Miller,) his wife Michelle (Maya Lynne Robinson), Forrest (Rob Corddry) and his wife, Delia (Michaela Watkins), want him to get out and enjoy life again -- AKA date. But Wade's not quite ready, nor are his daughters Grace (Ruby Jay) and Natalie (Mackenzie Moss).

  Oh, what's a "unicorn?" A single, employed, faithful dad. 

MY SAY The Dead Mom sitcom is just about as old as the sitcom. Here's how it works: Dad, who is youngish, with good hair, is a widower, but he's past mourning because it's about a year after the tragedy, and time to move on. Now comes the hard and hilarious part of single parenting! Watch dad teach the kids about the birds and bees. Watch dad navigate social media. Watch dad go on bad dates. There's enough material for a full season at least.

  It might be churlish to suggest that the Dead Mom sitcom has endured for so long -- and boomed in the '70s-80s -- because most showrunners have been men. In fact, single dads are considered better comic foils than single moms because sitcom dads are incompetent. They don't even know how to cook (more material for more episodes). 

  Which brings us to "The Unicorn." For historical purposes, the most notable antecedent here is "My Three Sons," a hugely popular Dead Mom sitcom that aired on ABC and CBS during the '60s. It starred the great screen actor Fred MacMurray, who had a type-cast problem to that point. MacMurray had starred, brilliantly, as the heavy in three classics, "Double Indemnity," "The Caine Mutiny" and "The Apartment." To break type, he signed a long-term deal with Disney ("The Shaggy Dog"), then this show, and was heavy no more. 

  Now, to my point: Why is Walton Goggins starring in a Dead Mom sitcom? Like MacMurray, Goggins is another fine actor with a typecast problem. To look at him is to think, reflexively, of a trigger-happy bad guy, like Shane Vendrell ("The Shield") and Boyd Crowder ("Justified"). There is something slightly sinister about that otherwise handsome face. It's mostly in the eyes: Hooded, deep-set, darting. Anything could snap at any moment. In many series, anything has.

  Goggins is good in this sitcom, surrounded by a solid cast that works hard to sand the edges. He does too. When he pulls out a frozen parm, the last of the dinners he got after the death of his spouse, he starts to tear up. Problem is, fans will vividly remember when Shane teared up too, right after his partner Vic (Michael Chiklis) iced somebody. He gets mad when he tells his friends he wants no "pity." Fans will recall when Boyd got mad, as well as the consequences of that anger. 

  "The Unicorn" should do well for CBS. People seem to like dead mom sitcoms. My advice: Don't watch reruns of "Justified" before tuning in.  

BOTTOM LINE Well-crafted sitcom, but Goggins takes some getting used to. 


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