Thursday, December 31, 2015

Pilot Review: Cooper Barrett's Guide to Surviving Life

This poster tells you everything you need to know about the new Fox series' brand of humor.
Cooper Barrett's Guide to Surviving Life (Sundays at 8:30 on Fox; Premieres January 3)

Have you missed the bro humor of Entourage since it went off the air? Hankering for a watered-down, network TV version of The Hangover, complete with one of the trilogy's stars? Been wishing for another ridiculously tongue-tangling long titled sitcom after Don't Trust the B in Apartment 23 ended a few years back? Well, Cooper Barrett's Guide to Surviving Life is here to fill those voids for you without providing much of anything else.

Cooper Barrett (Jack Cutmore-Scott) is here to give you lessons on surviving your twenties (because they're, like, really hard and stuff). He graduated in 2011 and moved in with his best friends: nerdy virgin Neal (Hung's Charlie Saxton) and brash party animal Barry (Glee's James Earl, no Jones). Cooper's successful older brother Josh (Justin Bartha, The Hangover), a married father of two, buys Cooper and his friends a 60-inch TV for their new apartment, which is stolen later that night after the guys throw a raging housewarming party. Two years later, Barry steals back a TV from a group of thugs he thinks took theirs... which later leads to the guys kidnapping Cooper for ransom.

You probably know exactly the kind of how you're in for when the pilot's major plot point involves someone being kidnapped, tied up, and beaten over a stolen television. This is a male-oriented sitcom full of dudes doing dude things like throwing parties, bonding over TVs, and playing it aloof on dates. Even the show's most emasculated character, the standard "nerd" type Neal, is in pursuit of one thing only: the loss of his virginity. At the housewarming party, he approaches a girl: "I have a full time job, just looking for someone to spend the rest of my life with and take my virginity!" (with the last part shouted in a sing-song voice). These are guys with guy problems: losing their virginity (and their television sets); not wanting to be tied down by things like marriage and children; and looking for that one chick who will finally "get" them. You know, the usual dude-bro man-bud shit. It's The Hangover on network television, but without the charm of an Alan-type character. It's Entourage, but with much more tolerable, broadly-drawn characers.

Of those characters, only Bartha has the skill to really make his character fun. Josh, much like Neal, is a stereotype of a 30something male: he calls his wife a "fun-sucker" and longs to spend his time drinking with his younger brother's crew rather than being with his family. But Bartha takes a very typical role with very bland jokes ("Can anyone else not see?" he says, waking up hungover) and delivers expertly. Saxton also manages to elevate some of Neal's material to amusing levels. Cutmore-Scott and Earl are passable and nothing more. Creator Jay Lacopo hasn't sketched these guys out in ways that makes them stand apart from each other, really, let alone from the litany of similar characters who came before them. In other words, there's no real difference in the voices here. Physical differences are how you will separate these guys: Cooper is the good-looking white guy, Barry is the big black guy, Charlie is the nerdy guy with glasses, and Josh is the older guy.

Notice anything missing from this review so far? Maybe the name of a female? Cooper Barrett barely has a woman in sight, with only Meaghan Roth (Syfy's Being Human) as Cooper's neighbor and Liza Lapira (Super Fun Night) in a two-line role in the pilot as Josh's wife as the significant feminine contributions... which is to say, there's barely any feminine persuasion at all. That's not a requirement, of course, but it does make the pilot feel off-balance and thin. After twenty-plus minutes of bros being bros, something different is needed. Instead, the two major female characters are reduced to plot devices for the male leads: Roth's Kelly as a potential love interest for Cooper and Lapira's Leslie as merely Josh's uptight (of course) and boring ball-and-chain. They're only defined by their relationships to the men, not as characters in their own right.

So despite some fun performances from Bartha and Saxton, Cooper Barrett's Guide to Surviving Life leaves much to be desired. Its "lessons learned" format will get old fast, and its comedy is overly familiar and dull. Although, gun to my head, I'd rather watch another episode of "bro-ventures" with these guys than another episode of Fox's Grandfathered, so that must count for something, right?

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