This is the 'Life': Family-centric sitcom wraps its second season

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Jacqueline Spendlove / TV Media
The cast of "Life in Pieces"

The cast of "Life in Pieces"

Before it even aired its pilot episode back in September 2015, "Life in Pieces" was drawing comparisons to ABC's "Modern Family" from just about every direction. Now at the end of its sophomore season, "Life in Pieces" has effectively stepped out of the "Modern Family" shadow, and proven itself to be a worthy family-centric comedy in its own right. With a third season renewal already in its pocket, "Life in Pieces" airs its season 2 finale Thursday, May 11, on CBS.

In all fairness, the two sitcoms do bear a lot of similarities at first glance -- and in any case, "Life in Pieces" could do a lot worse than to be likened to a long-running prime-time powerhouse that has a whopping 21 Emmys under its belt. Both shows follow the humorous goings-on of a large and close-knit family, with individual storylines given to each of the smaller family units. Beyond that overarching concept, however, there’s really no confusing the two.

"Life in Pieces" is so called because each episode is broken down into four mini-episodes, with each segment giving specific focus to one branch of the multigenerational Short family. This is headed up by the mom and pop of the clan, John and Joan, played by award-winning screen vets James Brolin ("Marcus Welby, M.D.") and Dianne Wiest ("Edward Scissorhands," 1990). John is a retired airline pilot with a documented penchant for mai tais, and Joan is a therapist, and a meddlesome, albeit loving, mother.

The eldest of their three grown kids is Heather (Betsy Brandt, "Breaking Bad"), a stay-at-home mother of three, who, like her own mom, tends to forcefully involve herself in every aspect of her kids' lives. She’s married to Tim (Dan Bakkedahl, "Veep"), an ear, nose and throat doctor who’s forever embarrassing his kids with his attempts at being a "cool dad."

Middle child Matt (Thomas Sadoski, "Wild," 2014) has spent the majority of the series thus far living in his parents' garage following a bitter divorce that left him flat broke. He got engaged to his former boss, Colleen (Angelique Cabral, "Friends With Benefits," 2011), at the end of season 1, and has finally left John and Joan's house to live with his fiancée.

Greg (Colin Hanks, "Orange County," 2002) is the coddled youngest son, and is husband to Jen (Zoe Lister-Jones, "Whitney"), a high-powered attorney. Jen gives birth to their first child in the pilot episode, and their storylines generally involve the struggles of new parenthood.

That's a decent roster of big names for your average network sitcom, and this is one of the show's obvious selling points. Another, according to series creator Justin Adler, is that, with equal focus given across a broad age range and periods of life in the large cast, there's a lot of content with which viewers can potentially identify.

Zoe Lister-Jones stars in "Life in Pieces"

Zoe Lister-Jones stars in "Life in Pieces"

"It was constructed in a way that whatever real story we could draw on as writers from our own lives -- whether we're single, dealing with older parents, have little kids or are in relationships -- that there's going to be a character for viewers to relate to," he told the Hollywood Reporter.

"To me, this show was inspired by 'Looney Tunes' -- this melting pot of the same cast of characters, but you never knew which grouping of characters you would get. So that's what it's closest to for me, not 'Modern Family,'" he added, addressing the frequent juxtaposition of the two shows.

While fans of the show were no doubt pleased with the announcement in March that "Life in Pieces" would return for a third season, the renewal wasn't a sure thing. Despite a lot of positive critiques, the current season's viewership is notably down from that of season 1. The numbers are nothing to sneeze at though, with around six million people tuning in each week on average, and certainly nothing feels stale about the plot at this point.

Season 2 got off to a strong start with two memorable guest stars: real-life couple Nick Offerman ("Parks and Recreation") and Megan Mullally ("Will and Grace"), who made an appearance in the season premiere as Tyler's (Niall Cunningham, "Awkward.") new in-laws. Tyler, Heather and Tim’s teenaged eldest son, surprised everyone at the end of last season when he announced that he had very suddenly married his way-out-of-his-league girlfriend, Clementine (Hunter King, "The Young and the Restless"), and the latter’s parents (or rather, mother and uncle-slash-de facto father) are charmingly useless in helping Heather and Tim convince the kids that they're much too young to be hitched.

Other guest stars this season include "The Princess Bride's" (1987) Cary Elwes as Joan's creative writing teacher; boxer Victor Ortiz ("The Expendables 3," 2014) as John's boxing trainer, Troy; Andy Richter ("Conan") as Julius Black, the director of a high school musical; and former NFL quarterback Kurt Warner as himself, invited to liven up Matt and Colleen's dull tailgate party.

With a large ensemble cast and sharp, funny writing, "Life in Pieces" has life left in it yet. Catch the season 2 finale when it airs Thursday, May 11, on CBS.