Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Pilot Review: Partners

Partners (Mondays at 8:30 on CBS)

I know I said here before that I couldn't wait for the return of David Kohan and Max Mutchnick, creators of Will & Grace, with their new sitcom Partners. And I really was anxious to see it, to get back into the swing of things with these two guys who wrote some of the funniest quips I've ever heard anywhere. But it is with a heavy heart that I must admit that Partners is just not good.

The show follows childhood friends Joe (David Krumholtz, Numbers) and Louis (Michael Urie, Ugly Betty) when they grow up to be partners in an architectural firm. Joe is contemplating breaking things off with Ali (Sophia Bush, One Tree Hill), while Louis is in a relatively new relationship with nurse Wyatt (Brandon Routh, Superman Returns). Things get complicated when Joe actually ends up proposing to Ali and Louis blurts out his previous intentions of ending their tenure.

The characterization here is so lazy that it's almost not worth talking about, but it's also the central problem of the show. Louis is is so obviously gay that it's borderline offensive. He's a reincarnation of Jack MacFarland, only without the manic energy and obvious caricature Sean Hayes brought to that role; Urie is fine, if a bit over-the-top (I couldn't help but wonder if Louis would be more tolerable if Urie toned down his LOOKATHOWGAYIAM performance), but he's no Sean Hayes. But I know it's not entirely Urie's fault, because Louis is just an amalgamation of every gay stereotype, as well as a pathological liar and a sociopath. He leaves all the firm's work to Joe, all while spewing jokes about Bette Midler and Clay Aiken. He goes around telling everyone that he's dating a Jewish doctor, even though Wyatt is a Mennonite and a nurse. He nearly ruins his best friend's relationship but manages to turn the whole thing around so that it's not about Joe at all, but about himself. How anyone could put up with Louis for as long as Joe has is a complete mystery. Sure, the writers try to argue it away by adding the line, "I've never met anyone who loves as much as Louis." But when that love is hidden behind constant narcissism and a blatant disregard for anyone else's feelings, is it really worth the trouble?

The other characters look like cardboard cutouts next to Louis. Krumholtz is downright wooden as Joe, and everytime he opened his mouth to spout some Yiddish term (schmuck, schmeckle, blah blah) I couldn't help but be reminded of his performance in Harold & Kumar Go To White Castle... the difference being, this time he's not playing a stoner, so the blandness isn't appropriate. It doesn't help that Joe takes the backseat to Louis in every aspect of their relationship, so there's not much for him to do while Urie is hogging the spotlight. But in the end, Joe is a reinvention of Will Truman, except he's not gay. But Krumholtz does not have Eric McCormack's bite, and Joe isn't nearly as funny a character as Will. Routh is utterly forgettable as Louis's boyfriend. Sophia Bush is the only actor who finds a happy medium between Urie's loud performance and Krumhotlz's subdued one. She doesn't get any particularly funny moments, but she's the only one who has any chemistry with anyone else on screen. I buy her relationship with Krumholtz more than I do the relationship between Krumhotlz and Urie, and Bush also works well with the latter. I can see her coming up to the level that Debra Messing eventually reached as Grace Adler; Ali is already being set up to be the Grace of Partners, just with a more sexual relationship with her Will in Joe.

Which brings me to the point: Partners could never live up to the greatness of Will & Grace, but with a concept and characters so similar, they seem to be trying. Perhaps because this story is so close to Kohan & Mutchnick (the relationship of Joe and Louis is based on their own), they just couldn't distance themselves enough to truly find the funny in it; so instead, they tried to redo what they had done before, but to nowhere near the same level of success.

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