In the US: Mondays, 8.30/7.30c, CBS
In the UK: Acquired by Comedy Central
Normally, even the mention that a sitcom is on CBS and is shot in front of a studio audience is enough to make me reach for the novocaine. Really, the pain is too much, these days.
But there was a little light at the end of the tunnel when I heard that Friends With Better Lives had nothing to do with Chuck Lorre, showrunner of CBS’s Two and a Half Men, Big Bang Theory, Mom and Mike and Molly, and that it stars James Van Der Beek, who did such a good job with Don’t Trust The B—- in Apartment 23.
So I was prepared to give this one a little latitude.
Certainly, it’s not as awful as most CBS sitcoms. Sure, the set-up is incredibly derivative, featuring four sets of couples at different stages of relationship life: single, just met, long-time married and divorced (cf Rules of Engagement, ’Til Death, Better With You). The single woman just want to find a partner; the just hooked-up couple want to spend all their time together having sex; the long-time marrieds don’t have any fun any more and envy the just hooked-up couple; and the divorced guy (Van Der Beek) is just bitter and wants to get back together with his wife.
Incidentally, the fact he’s divorced is a spoiler for the end of the episode, but since it’s in the show’s title sequence at the start of the episode, don’t worry about it.
For some reason, these four couples – technically, two couples + 1 + 1 – all hang around in long-time married couple’s house, where they snipe at each other, try to set each other up, pick apart their relationships and generally wish they were in some other state of singledom/coupledom. And that’s all handled in an efficient enough, if predictable manner, with a slight female edge that means that for once on a CBS comedy, there’s at least one funny female character right from the first episode.
Trouble is, for a group of eight characters you’re expected to hang out with, there’s not much to make you want to hang out with them. Van Der Beek is a bitter stalker and perpetual house guest who does mean things to single, picky, career woman Zoe Lister-Jones, who jibes back at him. And they’re the best things about the show, demonstrating some decent comedic chops.
But Victoria’s Secret model Brooklyn Decker just looks like she needs to eat some food most of the time; Kevin Connolly, who endured eight seasons of Entourage, is only there to make world-weary comments; Rick Donald is there to be Australian and nice, which is even less than he had to do as Danny on The Doctor Blake Mysteries; and beyond be a mother, embarrassed and regretful of her life choices, there’s precious little for Roswell’s Majandra Delfino to do and she’s only relatively competent at that.
There will, undoubtedly, be future relationship twists and no doubt Van Der Beek and Lister-Jones will end up together at some point in season two, assuming it gets that far. But I’m not sure I want to stick with it for that long. Hell, given that CBS aired the first episode and has now decided to wait a fortnight before airing the second one, I’m not sure CBS wants to stick with it for that long.
But if you’re looking for a comedy that isn’t immediately horrible and grossly sexist, and 25% of the cast of which are actually funny, this might be worth a few moments of your time, at least.
Here’s a trailer, surprisingly subtitled in French. But seeing as only Van Der Beek and Lister-Jones are worth watching, don’t be surprised CBS has made trailers exclusively about them, too.