The show focuses on the Short family and their various (mis)adventures. Unusually, it doesn't follow the standard A-Plot B-Plot structure of most other sitcoms. Each episode is made up of four unconnected short stories focusing on different members of the family instead.
This program provides examples of:
- A Date with Rosie Palms: During the honesty game, Samantha tells Tyler that she knows what he does in the bathroom.
- Adorably Precocious Child: Tim and Heather's youngest daughter, Sophia, astounds her parents with her intelligence. Tim has a hard time reconciling the fact that his daughter's so smart yet hadn't figured out that Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, and the Tooth Fairy weren't real until someone told her.
- The Alleged Car: Matt's car in "Interruptus Date Breast Movin'," which is so broken that the only thing that started it was tequila. And by the end of the episode, it bursts into flame.
- Alternate Timeline: How "Emergency Colonoscopy Driving Lunch" is structured. Four timelines depending on who calls Matt at a certain time while he's trying to get to a fertility clinic in 30 minutes. The Stinger has Matt and Colleen at the fertility clinic since "A lot can happen in thirty minutes."
- Amazingly Embarrassing Parents: Heather and Tim on one side and John and Joan on the other, seem to exist for the sole purpose of mortifying their children.
- And Now For Something Completely Different: Done a few times in Season 3.
- "The Twelve Shorts of Christmas" has 12 brief segments instead of four.
- The second story in "Reading Egg Nurse Neighbor" is partially animated, about how Matt and Colleen are trying to have a baby, told as a cartoon rooster and hen trying to make an egg.
- "Emergency Colonoscopy Driving Lunch" each has the same beginning, each with a different story depending on who calls Matt (Heather, Greg, an insurance salesman or Colleen) at a certain time when he's in a hurry to get to a fertility clinic. The stinger has Matt and Colleen at the clinic since "A lot can happen in thirty minutes."
- Anachronic Order: While the episode order is chronological (other than the all-flashback "#TBT: Y2K Sophia Honeymoon Critter", the individual segments in each episode are often not.
- Ascended Meme: Tim gets a PTA member off of Heather's back by replying to her texts with "new phone who dis?"
- Batman Gambit:
- Matt pulls one on Sophia, playing on her need to be the smartest person wherever she goes, to get his niece to abandon her plan to become an actress/model and to focus on becoming someone more meaningful, like a senator, instead.
- Sophia refuses to practice for her piano recital, banking on the fact that a kid known for wetting his pants is going on right afterwards and that, if he stays true to form, no one will remember her bad performance. It works.
- Bawdy Song: A bawdy Christmas song becomes a moment of heartwarming, of all things, in "College Stealing Santa Caroling." John used to sing it with his Navy buddies every year, but they've all died or moved away, so Colleen talks the family into singing it with him to lift his spirits.
- Black Comedy: In the "Spa" story of "Will Trash Book Spa," Jen and Greg get a couples' massage, which is supposed to be relaxing, except for the horrific car crash that happens outside. They never see the accident, but hear progressively more horrific things going on as the paramedics arrive on the scene and the spa employees make feeble attempts to distract them from the off-screen carnage.
- Bread Milk Eggs Squick: Done in the first story of "Receptionist Pot Voting Cramp" as a Call-Forward to the second story.Co-worker: How was your weekend?Tim: Aw, you know, sat through some soccer, a little ballet, got my mother-in-law high, you know, the uzh.
- Buxom Is Better: Clementine, Tyler's girlfriend is positively stacked, and all his family members consider that a key point of her attractiveness. Even the ones that haven't met her in person.Cousin Mickey: By the way, I saw a picture of your girlfriend on Instagram. Dude... COME ON! [raises fist for a fist bump] You didn't tell me you were dating twins.
- Cassandra Truth: A double-whammy in the first story of "Pestilence War Famine Death". Jen believes the house has rats, while Greg does not. They hire an exterminator. While looking for rats, he finds a Playboy that Greg had stashed away in the attic. Greg explains that he kept it because he dated the centerfold. The exterminator promises to keep the secret, but tells his wife, who spills the beans to Jen. Jen doesn't believe that this really happened and thinks Greg is making the entire thing up, so he goes to find the Playboy and it's missing. This is because it's being carried off by the rat while the two are too busy arguing about the existence of the magazine and the rat to even notice.
- Clean, Pretty Childbirth: Averted. A large part of Greg and Jen's plot in the pilot dwells on the physical toll childbirth has on a woman's body. As Jen's doctor says, her "tunnel is under construction."Greg: It's that bad, huh?
Jen: Do you remember, uh, when the Predator took off his mask?
- Embarrassing Tattoo: Tim gets one in the first segment of "Tattoo Valentine Guitar Pregnant". He means for it to say "I Heart Heather", but due to his terrible handwriting, the tattoo artist misreads it as "I Heart Heater". He then attempts to use "Heater" as a pet name for her, so that he can claim he planned it this way all along.
- Even the Girls Want Her: Clementine gets hit on constantly, by both men and women.
- Everybody Has Lots of Sex: All five couples on the show have very active sex lives.
- Flatline Plotline: The "Death" part of "Pestilence War Famine Death". John briefly flatlines during what should be a routine tonsillectomy, that he insisted be done by Tim. John survives, but Tim feels incredibly awkward afterwards when he realizes that he has "killed" his own father-in-law.
- The Friend Nobody Likes: Cousin Mikey is so off-putting that the entire family flees rather than spend time with him. Joan is the only one who makes an effort because she promised Mikey's mother, her sister, she'd look out for Mikey.
- Freudian Slippery Slope: When Tyler brings his first girlfriend home, the entire family is so stunned by her bombshell good looks that they can't stop bringing up her most impressive feature.
- Which climaxes when Heather, who all along has been chastising Tim for acting weird around Clementine, finally proposes a toast:Heather: So — to BOOBS!
- Which climaxes when Heather, who all along has been chastising Tim for acting weird around Clementine, finally proposes a toast:
- Fourth Date Marriage: Tyler and Clementine get married after dating for only a few months.
- The "Fun" in "Funeral": John decides that having a funeral themed party for his 70th birthday party would be fun way to hear the sort of things his family and friends would say at his actual funeral. Greg rips off Four Weddings and a Funeral, Heather's family sings, Matt stumbles through a speech before being kicked offstage by John, and Joan breaks down and angrily berates her husband for being so heartless.
- Gosh Darn It to Heck!: When Sophia is sent to her room for saying a bad word in "Hospital Boudouir Time-Out Namaste", she proceeds to write down all of the bad words she knows, including the f-word: "Fart".
- Hypocritical Humor:Tyler: You can't tell us what to do anymore, Mom. We're adults. Now if you'll excuse us, we have to go meet our friends at the food court.
- Idiosyncratic Episode Naming: Each episode title is a combination of the names of the vignettes. For example, "Interruptus Date Breast Movin'" has the stories "Interruptus", "Second Date", "Breast Feeding", and "Movin' Out".
- "Pestilence War Famine Death" is the first episode thus far where the titles of the four segments relate to each other in any way. (The actual stories, not so much.)
- Incest-ant Admirer: It is no secret that Tim is attracted to Jen, Colleen, and Clementine, and it is hinted at that Jen finds Matt attractive. None of this leads to anything though.
- Intergenerational Friendship: Matt and Sophia are paired together because they share Deadpan Snarker personalities and are usually the Only Sane Man during their family's adventures.
- It Makes Sense in Context: A common joke, due to the nature of the show.Joan: Don't go into the office. There's a live turkey in there.
Joan: Tim received it from a Mexican grocer!
- Let's Wait a While: Played with. During prom, Clementine promises Tyler that she will save herself until they get married. Tyler immediately proposes and the marriage is performed and consummated before the episode is over.
- Line-of-Sight Name: Greg claims to be sending his daughter to a prestigious preschool called "Invisible Rainbows" that he made up on the spot, based on his surroundings at a child's birthday party, to impress the director of the preschool he and Jen actually want to get her into. Naturally this gets out of control as the director and other parents begin to pass the word around about this mysterious school.
- Love at First Sight: Revealed to be the case when Matt and Colleen met, at least in Matt's case, in "#TBT: Y2K Sophia Honeymoon Critter". It is why Matt took a job at the airline catering company he really didn't want.
- Mistaken for Prostitute: Matt and Colleen try to have sex in his car by the side of a road because they can't find any other place to be alone. They're stopped by a cop who angrily mutters that prostitutes never learn that it's not a good idea to do so.
- Mister Muffykins: Colleen and Chad share custody of Princess while John has a Yorkshire Terrier.
- Mood Whiplash:
- The funeral story in the pilot is pretty funny, if not awkward for everyone involved, until Joan breaks down thinking about how one day John will be dead for real. Then he gets trapped in the coffin and it's right back to being funny again.
- The season premiere has its first three stories hit combinations of hilarious and heartwarming. The last one, "Shower," begins with the family throwing a surprise baby shower for Jen and Greg telling them that she lost the baby three weeks ago. Then it goes back to hilarious as they try to keep Jen from finding out about the attempted shower, then back to tearjerker after Sophia doesn't get the memo and gives Jen an "I'm gonna be a big sister" onesie for Lark.
- Morally Ambiguous Doctorate: Joan, as a therapist, decides to treat her family in an escalating series of events after Matt walks in on his parents having sex. The American Medical Association considers the treatment of immediate family members to be unethical outside of an emergency situation, especially if the inciting incident involves the person providing treatment.
- Names to Run Away from Really Fast: Colleen's ex-boyfriend Chad tries to get her and Matt to sell a line of skin care products he's created for a commission. The product is named "Ponzi" and comes in a pyramid-shaped container.
- Negated Moment of Awesome: Matt's plans to make a big announcement in the finale's final segment is interrupted by not one but six other major family developments being announced in less than a minute. When he finally gets the chance, the entire family ignores him because of yet another development.
- Nightmare Sequence: Matt has one about starting a family with Colleen in "Bunny Single Nightmare Drinking." It includes taking a parenthood test he hasn't studied for, Joan reciting the lyrics of Snow's "Informer," and the baby being John's ventriloquist dummy.
- Nobody Poops: Averted several times.
- In the pilot, Jen poops while giving birth. Their doctor explains that this is normal.
- In "Receptionist Pot Voting Cramp", Colleen starts getting stomach cramps and reveals that she hasn't pooped since Matt moved in a week ago. Again, the doctor they speak to says that she sees it happen all the time.
- Noodle Incident: Tyler goes to a party during a college tour. The exact details aren't shown but we do see that he somehow ended up sleeping inside a dryer while eating the sandwich Heather made for him.
- Parental Favoritism: Comes up during the honesty game.Sophia: Who's your favourite child?
Heather: [looking for a way out] Tim?
Tim: Pretty sure it's Tyler.
- Parental Sexuality Squick:
- Tyler is horrified when Tim starts describing to his son how he thought he'd lost his virginity in high school but had the experience "disqualified".Tim: We were on this couch at Uncle Dave's beach house.
Tyler: I don't think I want to hear this story.
Tim: It's time I told someone and I want that someone to be you.
Tyler: No! It doesn't have to be!
- Heather, Matt, and Greg tip-toe around the fact that their parents have a healthy, and creative!, sex life and react with disgust whenever the topic comes up around them.
- Tyler is horrified when Tim starts describing to his son how he thought he'd lost his virginity in high school but had the experience "disqualified".
- Pass the Popcorn: When Matt has to wrestle his fiancée's roommate, Greg shows up with a bowl of popcorn to watch him get beat up by a girl.
- The Pigpen: According to Tyler, Samantha's reached the age where she needs to start regularly applying deodorant.
- Primal Scene: Matt walks in on his parents doing it on the couch in the first story of "Interruptus Date Breast Movin'". Later they decide to go to a more private location...which is above his bedroom in the garage, and he can hear them through the very thin floor and watch as the hanging lights sway to furniture banging above him.
- Product Placement:
- "Survivor" from "Swim Survivor Zen Talk" revolves around John audition for Survivor in spite of his advanced age. It also features a brief cameo from Jeff Probst.
- "Tailgate Spiral Souvenir Seating" is completely dedicated to promoting the Los Angeles Rams. Somewhat justified in that Joan was previously established as a die-hard fan when the team was still in St. Louis.
- Punny Name: The show is a series of short stories about the Short family. Get it?
- Raging Stiffie:
Tyler (to Clementine): Can we switch? You know how I wake up.
- The "Pill" segment of "Annulment Roommate Pill Shower" has John in the hospital after taking an erectile dysfunction medication. Turns out Joan was already crushing the same pill in his coffee.
- In "Poison Fire Teats Universe," Tyler would rather not sleep between Heather and Clementine.
- Reckless Gun Usage: John once misplaced his shotgun outside and completely forgot about it. He only found it when it accidentally went off after he stepped on it in the dark.
- Screw Politeness, I'm a Senior!: Joan's mother is loud and rude to pretty much everyone she meets (although she quickly warms to Clementine). People tolerate it because she's mostly harmless. For example, she regularly attempts to shoplift her medications. The pharmacists simply let her run off with them, then charge the credit card number they have on file.
- Screwed by the Network: After ratings for the third season declined from previous years, CBS renewed Life in Pieces for a fourth season, though they only ordered thirteen episodes, and was pushed back to the summer. The network later cancelled the series in the middle of the aforementioned season. This is even more unfortunate given the fact that if it had a full season, the series would have had enough episodes syndication, and would have had a chance to shine in re-runs.
- The first story in "Treasure Ride Poker Hearing" has shout outs to Stranger Things, complete with bicycles, flashlights and synthesizer music.
- "Emergency Colonoscopy Driving Lunch" is structured like Sliding Doors. Each story has the same beginning and then goes in a very different direction depending on who calls Matt (Heather, Greg, an insurance salesman or Colleen) when he's in a hurry to get to a fertility clinic. The stinger has Matt and Colleen at the clinic since "A lot can happen in thirty minutes."
- Tempting Fate: The doctor in the pilot tells Jen in no uncertain terms not to look at her vagina after giving birth. Jen can't help it.Jen: When someone hands you a box and says there's something super crazy inside but you're not allowed to look in it of course you're gonna look in it!
- Toilet Humor: The final segment of the Thanksgiving episode, "Godparent Turkey Corn Farts". Colleen's spicy cauliflower dish gives everyone at the table a bad case of gas...including an already irate neighbor whose wife has just passed and thinks everyone giggling at the farts is mocking his pain.
- Too Much Information: This disease is apparently hereditary, because pretty much every member of the family seems to have it. Parental Sexuality Squick, as mentioned above, is the most common response.
- Two Lines, No Waiting: Averted. Each episode is made up of four isolated short stories. Characters might appear in multiple stories in the same episode but there's usually no overlap in the plots aside from a brief Continuity Nod.
- Unwanted Spouse: Unmarried variant. Colleen and her ex-fiance bought a house together but the relationship fell apart and neither of them can afford to buy the other out so they're stuck living together until they can figure out a solution.
- Vacation Episode: "Jungle Push Resort Anniversary" has the Shorts going to Mexico for John and Joan's 50th anniversary, staying in a "rustic" resort full of bugs.
- Wham Line: Colleen to Matt, at the end of "Hair Recital Rainbow Mom": I think we should break up.
- Why Waste a Wedding?: A variant. Colleen's wedding was cancelled a while ago, but not soon enough to get a refund on her reception. She and Matt decide to take advantage of the empty ballroom, champagne tower, and DJ on their date.