Review: Perfect Couples

50% funny, but so not the new Friends

Perfect Couples

In the US: Thursdays, 8:30/7:30c, NBC. Starts January 20th 2010

“Put your best foot forward,” goes the expression. Now, theoretically, NBC has already done that with its Fall schedule, so whatever comes in the form of its mid-season replacements should be its second-best foot, if you continue to follow the metaphor. Given how terrible NBC’s Fall season was (Undercovers, The Event, Chase, Outsourced), root canal surgery should therefore be preferable to The Cape and the other shows that are going to be hitting TV screens in January on the Peacock network.

However, NBC is again trying to put its best foot forward to overcome these negative expectations by previewing what is likely to be the best of the also-rans, Perfect Couples, just before Christmas when not much is on, rather than leaving us to ignore it when the far more packed January schedule arrives. To really give Perfect Couples a chance, NBC has also clearly picked what it thinks is the best episode, too (if you notice, we don’t even have an episode number in the headline this time, since this isn’t the pilot episode or even the second episode – it’s the God-knows-what episode).

Well, if this is the best, oh dear for the rest.

Perfect Couples is a single-camera ‘comedy’ about relationships that features three couples who are friends with each other (so, yes, if you do the math, that’s six friends in an NBC show on Thursday night. Hmmm…). I air-quote ‘comedy’ because it takes 10 minutes to become in any way funny – that’s 50% of its run-time before a joke decides to put its head above the parapet – after which it does raise the occasional titter.

So is there a good reason to watch Perfect Couples when it bursts into our living rooms in January? Well, there’s the cast at least. There’s Olivia Munn, the occasional actress, author, host of Attack of the Show and somewhat controversial Daily Show reporter. There’s David Walton of the rapidly dead 100 Questions.

And then there’s Hayes MacArthur. Who? That would be Mr Ali Larter to you.

Here’s a trailer:

“Perfect Couples” depicts the misadventures of three engaging couples as they struggle to find out what makes the ideal relationship — and how to maintain it through humorous trial-and-error. The series explores their heroic journey in search of the perfect relationship without destroying each other in the process.

Dave (Kyle Bornheimer, “Worst Week”) and Julia (Christine Woods, “Flash Forward”) are the relatable, normal couple, but Julia’s hope of remaining the cool, low-maintenance chick is tested by Dave’s attempts to keep both his wife and his needy best friend Vance (David Walton, NBC’s “100 Questions”) equally happy. Vance, along with the neurotic Amy (Mary Elizabeth Ellis, “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia”), are the high-passion, high-drama couple who bring out the best and worst in each other.

The third duo features Rex (Hayes MacArthur, “She’s Out of My League”), a reformed party guy, and, and his wife, Leigh (Olivia Munn, “Attack of the Show”), who considers herself as the group’s mother hen. Believing that they are relationship experts, Rex and Leigh have attended every class and seminar on relationships — and regard themselves as the “perfect couple.”

Jon Pollack (“30 Rock”) and Scott Silveri (“Friends”) are the executive producers while Andy Ackerman (“Seinfeld,” “The New Adventures of Old Christine”) is the director. The series is produced by Universal Media Studios.

Is it any good?
At the 10-minute mark, I was ready to turn this off. It wasn’t offensive like Rules of Engagement. It didn’t have a dreadful laughter track like Better With You.

But it wasn’t funny. The characters were either dull or over the top and implausible. I mean going to couples counselling because you can’t agree on which house to buy, but tricking the guy into thinking you’re actually going to see a realtor? Really?

If the first 10 minutes of Perfect Couples were a stand-up, it would be doing comedy of the form: “You know when couples go out together, they sometimes disagree. And girls, you know how you stop wearing all your good bras three months into the relationship and starting putting on those dull ones you keep at the back of the drawer? Have you noticed that? And, guys, have you ever said something to your wife that came out wrong and she gets upset and you have to apologise? Huh? Huh? You know what I’m talking about!”


However, past the 10 minute mark, things do improve. There are some actual, funny moments. There are some actual, romantic moments. There’s some visual comedy. There are even – gasp – some clever bits. In other words, it starts to get “not bad”. Indeed, by the end of the episode, it’s still “not bad”, with some good character moments. In particular, the Italy-obsessed couple (MacArthur and Munn) work well as do the women when they’re together. The men come across as having been written by women who have never actually met any men, but hey ho, what can you do?

Now, the cast. The most famous is Munn. When asked to perform as an actress or a TV host, she has two modes: the bright cheery Munn and the scary, Terminator-esque Munn. In Perfect Couples, she’s really no different. Sometimes these two modes work and make you laugh. More often, they don’t.

David Walton, on the other hand, only has one mode: the spaced-out guy. That works about as well as it did on 100 Questions.

The others, however, give much better performances. Unfortunately, with the exception of MacArthur, none of them really have characters to work with, which leaves MacArthur as the only character/actor combination coming out of this well.

Overall, it’s not bad and has room to get better, but the best I can say about this is it’s better than Outsourced. It’s not as well written as Better With You. It’s going to be competing with Fox’s Mixed Signals, which looks marginally funnier. This is not the new Modern Family. It’s not the new Friends. It’s a mid-season replacement that were it not for the fact that NBC has cancelled practically all its new Fall shows already, I’d say would be unlikely to get picked up for a second season. But NBC has so it might well be with us for another couple of years at least.

Give it a whirl. I’d say there’s about a 30% chance you’ll laugh and enjoy it.