Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Pilot Review: Best Friends Forever

Best Friends Forever (Wednesdays at 8:30 on NBC; premieres April 4)

An unusual addition to NBC's midseason lineup, Best Friends Forever is The Little Pilot That Could. Filmed on a shoestring budget last year and at one time a longshot for pickup, it's a surprisingly funny little show in the vain of Curb Your Enthusiasm that could potentially push the boundaries of what a broadcat sitcom can be.

Jessica (Jessica St. Clair) has just separated from her husband, so she flees the broken relationship and returns home to the comfort of her best friend Lennon (Lennon Parham). Jessica expects to pick up where the two left off years ago, spending days at a time watching Steel Magnolias and bashing men. But there's a little complication: Lennon's boyfriend Joe (Luka Jones) has just moved in. Joe sacrifices his office so that Jessica has a place to stay, but it soon becomes clear that he will be sacrificing a lot more for his girlfriend's best friend... namely, his sanity.

Best Friends Forever has about as generic a plot as could be expected (it's a wonder how many comedies there are about divorce out there... who knew it was such a laughing matter?), but it succeeds in an offbeat way. The script is based on transcriptions of improv sessions held by writers/creators/stars St. Clair and Parham; the result is outrageous. The banter between the two leading females is completely natural but still very funny; it truly feels like we're watching two particularly funny women who all but speak their own language of pop culture references, insults and double entendres (much like the female buddy comedy Bridesmaids, especially the relationship between Maya Rudolph and Kristen Wiig's characters). The feeling is akin to Larry David's hit HBO series Curb Your Enthusiasm, although without the profanity and shouting and total awkwardness. There is still a heavy dose of awkward humor, but it's not the type of awkward humor that makes the viewer uncomfortable (for an example of this type of comedy, see The Office).

St. Clair and Parham (both former members of the Upright Citizens Brigade) are clearly the standouts here. The characters are obviously based closely on themselves, so they are played to perfection. Jessica is neurotic, temperamental and impulsive; Lennon is the one who holds everyone around her together. The pilot's highlight comes in a scene between the two of them and a precocious young neighbor named Queenetta (Daija Owens), where Jessica gets into a screaming match with the child and has to literally be carried off by Lennon. Luka Jones (whose only other credit is as a guest star on How I Met Your Mother) is doing his best to break through the chemistry of the two leading ladies, but he's not yet up to the task. The role was originally cast with Adam Pally of Happy Endings, and I think he would've brought a more interesting dynamic and presence to the cast. On the flip side of the camera, Fred Savage is finally stepping away from his lackluster days of directing tepid family fare and moving toward some decent work here, though he has done better in the past and doesn't bring much flare to the proceedings.

I went in expecting the worst but came away pleasantly surprised by how cute the whole thing is. Best Friends Forever succeeds on the humor of St. Clair and Parham and their ability to always play well off one another. They have the undeniable chemistry of two best friends. Unfortunately it's just an unremarkable pilot, pleasant and amusing as it is. It's different from anything else currently on any of the broadcast networks, so it will be interesting to see how it's received. I found it enjoyable and admirable, but I can see where others may find it bland and strange.

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