In the US: Sundays, 8.30/7.30c, Fox
So I’ve developed a new test. Don’t worry, Barrometer, you’re not out of a job, since this is more of an adjunct to your mighty TV-measuring powers, rather than a replacement.
And it’s very simple. You just ask yourself one question: would this programme become considerably better if you replaced the lead character with a woman?
Obviously, this doesn’t work if your lead character is already a woman, but if he isn’t, it’s quite handy. Because you’d be surprised how much less tired, less clîchéd, more original and more interesting even the dullest of TV shows becomes if you just invigorate their format with a gender switch.
And equally importantly, when you have imagined what a show would be like with a female lead, you can then see more clearly what the problems are (if any) with the current format.
To the credit of Cooper Barrett’s Guide To Surviving Life, it does at least try to do this itself. Based around the eponymous Cooper Barrett (Jack Cutmore-Scott), a 20-something slacker who doesn’t know what to do with his life, and his two male flatmates, it’s effectively a ‘what not to do’ for the viewer – less a guide to doing the right thing but a demonstration of what happens if you do the wrong thing, with each episode being a demonstration of a different wrong thing: at the beginning, we have a flashforward to the middle of the crrrrrraaaaazzzzzyyyyyyy wrong thing and at the end, we have Cutmore-Scott breaking the fourth wall to tell us the life lesson only those competing for a Darwin Award hadn’t already learned.
Despite basing its entire first episode on The Hangover, what sets it apart from practically a galaxy full of previous Men Behaving Badly style shows and movies about idiotic boy-men and their crrrrrraaaaazzzzzyyyyyyy adventures in not growing up is that there’s a female member of the gang (Meaghan Rath). And not just one who stands there, tapping her foot, wondering impatiently when the others are going to grow up and become marriage-worthy material, but one who’s equally irresponsible and involved in the hijinks.
Yet the show’s problem is still the same – it’s Cooper Barrett’s guide to surviving life, not Meaghan Rath’s. Even when the show is theoretically about her problems, as in the third episode when she has to go to a wedding in Mexico, it’s still about Barrett’s issues with being a plus one, rather than truly being from Rath’s point of view.
But if you imagine the show with all the adventures revolving around Rath, you immediately have a much better show, not least because you realise just how dully pedestrian both the situations and Cutmore-Scott are. On the latter note, if you are going to have a show about a ‘wildly charismatic’ Ferris Bueller/Parker Lewis-style character, you probably need to have both an actor who fits the bill and writing that convinces you of his wild charisma.
Which isn’t to say that Cooper Barrett’s Guide To Surviving Life has no good writers: there’s obvious intelligence going on in some of the lines and situations, such as the ‘hangover cure’ in the show’s format-rebooting second episode (see what they did there? Meta, huh?) and the 24 homage in the third episode. But if you’re saddled with a tedious, conventional format that’s been seen countless times before, that offers nothing new and that doesn’t have a cast to lift the ordinary into the extraordinary, intelligence isn’t going to count for much.
On the plus side, Rath should go onto better things after this and Justin Bartha, who never got to do much in The Hangover beyond sit around and wait for the rest of the gang to turn up, does prove that he had unused acting and comedic chops. But following Cooper Barrett’s Guide To Surviving Life is only ever going to waste a good portion of your time, so is best avoided.
Barrometer rating: 4
Would this show be better with a female lead? Yes
TMINE’s prediction: Cancelled by the end of the first season