We Are Men: Season 1, Episode 1
The aughts gave us at least two great traditions in television. The first, and the only thing most people are talking about these days, is the anti-hero drama, which came to it’s crescendo a couple of days ago. The second, all the way on the other end of the spectrum, is the shaggy, good-natured hang-out comedy. Oz-like in it’s prescience, the legacy of Friends gave us shows like How I Met Your Mother, My Boys, Happy Endings, and now, We are Men. Those last four shows were all associated in some way with creator Rob Greenberg, a skilled hand with a genre that depends mostly on likability and chemistry.
Of course, We Are Men has neither of those qualities in abundance. And while it belongs to the second, too-late-by-half wave of 'mancession' comedies (see: half of last year’s fall schedule), it lacks the pointless aggression of those truly terrible shows. In fact, it lacks much of a point of view at all. What’s left is a tepid comedy that only manages to gesture lightly at the idea that it’s supposed to be funny.
Our cast of down on their luck dudes includes our leading man Christopher Nicholas Smith, recently dumped at the altar and understandably mopey about it. He’s moved into temporary housing, where he has befriended serial spouse and lecherous creep Tony Shalhoub, spite-filled anger-management candidate Jerry O’Connell, and pining, wistful divorcee Kal Penn. These bros just love to chill by the pool and complain about the women from their previous lives while looking at potential new ones to add to the collection. If this were one of those dark dramas, the audience would be made to understand that these men are incredibly gross. Instead, I think we’re supposed to be charmed by their idiosyncrasies.
It’s actually impressive how inoffensive the show is with the conceit it’s given. Smith is about as toothless as a leading man can be. He is supposed to be henpecked and chastened, but he doesn't seem to have much more passion for his love of basketball compared to his terrible job marketing industrial paint for his father-in-law-to-be. We have to be told he’s unhappy, because his performance suggests he was given a surprise lobotomy. Even the ogling and sexism of the other character lands with a thump. It’s just supposed to be funny when O’Connell walks around in a speedo, or when Kal Penn acts like a sad sack. The single-camera format actively impedes these jokes, and the absence of a laugh-track makes every piece of flaccid humor feel even more like a flop. In fact, this show could be exhibit A in the case that the single-camera comedy is not inherently better than the multi-camera sitcom.
Worst of all, the banter that glues together an ensemble hang-out show is nowhere to be found. There is none of the zippy hyper-specificity of Happy Endings or the gentle ribbing and absurdist plots of HIMYM. Rather, the men in question lazily fling boring jokes at one another in the vague hope that it will build itself into a dialogue. A half hour after this ended I couldn’t remember a single line or conversation that struck me without looking back at my notes.
That’s more dangerous than usual, because without a central plot line to push these characters forward, there’s nothing to make people keep watching. Hang-out shows work when you want to spend time with these friends as if they’re your friends too. These guys are the kind of friends you hope to hang out with as little as possible. They’re boring, and thus, the whole show is boring. The good news is that this is probably the easiest thing to change. Once the writers are more comfortable writing to the actor’s strengths and figure out how to give life where now there is none, this could have the good-natured banter of much better shows. But the pilot feels like a filmed shrug, a dashed-off assignment handed in just to get credit.
-Dave Foley gets one single line, and it’s ripped off from Arrested Development. Needless to say, its the funniest part of the whole episode.
-Actually, Kal Penn gets hit in the face with a basketball, which is also pretty funny. Dave Foley has heart, but basketball in the face has a basketball in the face!
-I originally wrote in my notes that the title of this show was We are Dads. That show has left a mental scar that can’t be scrubbed out.
-Proposed, more accurate alternate title: Bitches, AMIRITE?!