In the US: Thursdays, 8.30/7.30c, CBS
And so it begins… Sigh.
You don’t know what I’m talking about, do you? Well, here’s the thing. Apparently, men don’t know how to be men any more. We just don’t know. We’re all confused. Are we supposed to be macho and manly real men or are we really just overgrown children, playing with our Playstations all day while women run the world? Are we unemployable morons? Are we uncouth and ill-mannered – and is that what a true man is and what a woman really wants?
These are not questions I’m asking by the way. These are the questions that US TV networks – particularly ABC – are asking through the medium of the sitcom. We’ve got Last Man Standing, Man Up and Work It coming our way from ABC (read more about them over here, if you’re a glutton for punishment), but CBS has fired the opening salvo in this particular gender war with How To Be A Gentleman, in which a reasonably nice, well mannered guy is forced to become friends with one of his former High School bullies (Kevin Dillon) in an effort to discover what it is to be a real man.
Sounds bad, doesn’t it? But you know what? Even though CBS is the home of the horrific Mike and Molly and Two and a Half Men, while ABC has given us Modern Family and Suburgatory, How To Be A Gentlemen is actually a lot subtler and nicer than you might have thought. Here’s a trailer.
HOW TO BE A GENTLEMAN, inspired by the book of the same name, is a comedy about the unlikely friendship between a traditional, refined writer and an unrefined personal trainer. Andrew Carlson (David Hornsby) is an etiquette columnist whose devotion to ideals from a more civilized time has lead to a life detached from modern society. Infectiously optimistic, Bert Lansing (Kevin Dillon) is a reformed “bad boy” from Andrew’s past who inherited a fitness center, but can still be rude, loud and sloppy. When Andrew’s editor, Jerry (Dave Foley), tells him to put a modern, sexy twist on his column or be fired, he hires Bert as a life coach in the hopes of learning to be less “gentle man” and more “real man.” Andrew’s mom, Diane (Nancy Lenehan), and his bossy sister, Janet (Mary Lynn Rajskub), support the plan, as would Janet’s husband, Mike (Rhys Darby), if he was allowed to have an opinion. Though Andrew and Bert’s views may be centuries apart, they may find they’re each other’s missing link. David Hornsby (“It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia”), Adam Chase (“Friends”), Ted Schachter (“The Invention of Lying”) are executive producers for CBS Television Studios.
Is it any good?
In a lot of ways, this isn’t quite what you think it’s going to be and it’s actually quite satirical.
Essentially, while David Hornsby’s character does need to “man up” a little bit, he’s actually the best human being on the programme – everyone else is a miserable bully (including his sister – Mary Lynn Rajskub) or a walk over (including his boss, Scott Foley from Kids in the Hall, and Rhys Darby from Flight of the Concordes). He’s also no Niles Crane, constantly pretentious and effete, the butt of all the gags – he is ribbed by the others, but he’s clearly better than the people ribbing him and is on the side of right. To be a real man, as far as the show seems to suggest, involves becoming a worse, stupider human being and people should perhaps be looking for something better.
Unfortunately, to do this, we have to sit through some extreme nastiness. Mary Lynn Rajskub’s character is just vile, inflicting no end of misery on Rhys Darby’s implausibly doormatish nice guy husband – to the extent that he’s happy to sit at the bar while Rajskub has dinner with another man. Dillon is exactly the bully he appears to be, although he does have hidden depths to explain his dickishness – which the programme, to its credit, says is dickish. And Hornsby is dumped while on a date with his neighbour when she bumps into her bullying, dickish ex.
But other than that, it’s not bad. There are a lot of laughs to be had from
ScottDavid Foley’s desperate attempts to take his magazine downmark to appeal to “men in their late 30s who think they’re still 15”, even though he hates the idea himself, are well handled. There are signs that Dillon, too, is going to learn from Hornsby and perhaps even meet him halfway, if his brain can handle it. And even Darby’s character learns a little assertiveness.
Indeed, the show’s main argument seems to be that nice, intelligent guys are the way forward – they just need to have a little backbone. And compared to what ABC are planning to unleash on us, that’s practically Voltaire. Cherish this one. Nurture it. All that is needed for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing.