WE ARE MEN: Monday 8:30PM on CBS – Change the Channel
It hasn’t been a great fall for new sitcoms. On CBS, WE ARE MEN (which could have better been called We Are Mediocrities) joins Mom, The Crazy Ones, and The Millers, and none of them is a standout. Men is the sourest of the group–in fact, perhaps the only way it could have been made interesting is if it had gone all the way with its characters and setting and been genuinely mean-spirited, but that wasn’t likely to happen on network TV.
Series creator (and pilot director) Rob Greenberg has been a writer/producer on shows from Frasier to How I Met Your Mother, but little of their sophisticated DNA is evident here. The setting is a “short-term” housing development in LA’s Valley, inhabited for the most part by men marooned after failed marriages or romances. (The general concept of the show resembles Jonathan Tropper’s recent–and much better–novel “One Last Thing Before I Go,” which had a similar locale.) Carter (Christopher Nicholas Smith) is our bland hero, deserted by his bride at the altar and thus the building’s new resident. He quickly becomes buddies with middle-aged divorcees Frank (Tony Shalhoub), Gil (Kal Penn) and Stuart (Jerry O’Connell), who if we didn’t already know the actors would be pretty much interchangeable, except that Stuart takes his shirt off at every opportunity. They’re dogs who view every young woman who crosses their path as a potential conquest, but they “get” Carter in a way his fiancee doesn’t, which in this case means they agree he should become a high school basketball coach instead of working for her dad. Also getting Carter: Frank’s lovely daughter Jill (Rebecca Breeds), who would inevitably become his romantic interest if the show continued long enough.
Shalhoub and Penn know their way around a gag (O’Connell goes over the top, and Smith makes no impression at all), but that’s about all that can be said for We Are Men, which wants to be merrily sexist and smarmy in a 1950s kind of way–Frank has a taste for Asian women in their 20s–while saying something about the everlasting bonds of male friendship. There could be a show in that, but it wouldn’t air on CBS, where outright smuttiness would go too far, half-hours have to include aspirational life lessons, and even annoying characters are required to have hearts of gold. (FX’s The League gets close, perhaps, to what a workable version of this story would look like.) The pilot has dead space where the laughs are supposed to be.
Apart from the fact that Greenberg had worked on it, it’s unclear why CBS thinks How I Met Your Mother is a compatible comedy for We Are Men, considering how sharply different they are in tone and sensibility (and laughs). Hammocked between Mother and 2 Broke Girls, Men will get sampled, but so was last fall’s Partners, and that didn’t last long. Men isn’t likely to do much better.