The search for TV’s next Friends has been a long and painful one. Any new mystery/sci-fi series, whether made by JJ Abrams or not, is compared to Lost. And similarly, each and every debuting show featuring a group of friends usually living in an apartment and spending most of their free-time together is compared to the legendary sitcom Friends that ended in 2004.
How I Met Your Mother came closest, as it featured five friends residing in apartments and regularly meeting over drinks, with MacLarens bar serving as a substitute for Friends’ Central Perk. But the Carter Bays/Craig Thomas penned phenomenon eventually took on a life of its own and became a separate benchmark, complaints about the ending hopefully not taking too much away from its nine year run.
But other shows fared less well – Happy Endings was fantastic, full of one-liners and lightning sharp in-jokes, but fought an unsuccessful ratings battle from the start. Cougar Town, starring Monica from Friends (Courtney Cox) endured its terrible name to find a loyal audience, but ABC shunted it after 3 seasons. A remake of the British hit Coupling was also a flop. And practically every summer, an unfinished Friends-lite prototype has aired on most networks.
With this in mind, my hopes were not too high for Friends with Better Lives – did it have the potential to be a hit, or to sink without a trace into a summer burnout like the fate that befell Bent in 2012 or The Goodwin Games last year. Airing off the back of the divisive but record breaking HIMYM finale didn’t prove to be that beneficial, as the audience dropped from 13 million to 7 million between the two shows, relatively low by CBS standards.
CBS’ Friends with Better Lives appeared to be getting people talking on social media though, and I can see it taking a chunk of the DVR ratings chart. The promo even encouraged viewers to use the hashtag #FWBL (the title of the show is styled in this way) and some of the cast were live tweeting the show whilst it was on.
Personally I have to say I enjoyed the pilot – the script got me laughing from scene one (I am not averse to immature humour at the right moments) – and the chemistry appeared to be there even at this early stage.In terms of grabbing my attention from the start, I’d say it was one of the most instant comedy pilots of this TV season, after Trophy Wife and Brooklyn Nine-Nine. Whether it can sustain its strong start is another matter.
FWBL (I will use the hashtag abbreviation from now on, words are precious) has a strong platform on which to build, and the casting certainly helps. Eighties and nineties stars are undergoing a revival at the moment – Kevin Bacon, James Spader and Kevin Spacey are putting in their finest work in years on the small screen. FWBL benefits from the presence of a plucky nineties star of their own, James van der Beek, Dawson of Dawson’s Creek fame, who was last seen in the underrated Don’t Trust the B (In Apartment 23) with Krysten Ritter.
van der Beek has lost none of his charm that made him an endearing TV presence, even when he’s not the lead, playing newly single bachelor Will. The rest of the cast are by no means unknown: Kevin Connolly (Eric ‘E’ Murphy in Entourage) and Majandro Delfino (State of Georgia, Roswell) play married couple Bobby and Andi, who try and fail to act young like their party-mad friends. Australian actor Rick Donald (Home & Away) features as environmentally-conscious Lowell who is recently engaged to Jules (Brooklyn Decker: Ugly Betty, Chuck). Zoe Lister Jones (Whitney) rounds off the ensemble as routinely luck-hapless Kate.
The FWBL show name suggests that none of the characters are entirely happy in the situation they are in, no matter how perfect it may seem from the outside, and it will be interesting to see how the group dynamic develops. We saw in the course of HIMYM that characters we thought would never change, or had no desire to change, eventually became rounded individuals who broke away from their lowest common denominator.
Kate is shown to be incredibly picky when it comes to choosing men, which is the root of her trouble, and even when she finds the perfect guy personality wise, she is shallow to worry about his height. Lowell is the typical ‘Gap Yah’ world-saving vegan that you wonder how Jules can even tolerate let alone love, but perhaps there is another side to him that we have not seen yet. Will’s stall is set early, the carefree bachelor content to let life pass by, and Bobby and Andi are hamstrung by their marriage. They all think the others have it better, but the whole point will be if they ultimately realise the grass is not greener.
FWBL is definitely worth watching – at the moment it looks like a solid bet for laughs, with a bit of Entourage raunchiness thrown in for good measure. If it survives the end of season cut, FWBL could be on my list of must-watch sitcoms.
It at least made my Monday night better.
Observations and best quotes:
– “I was so loud I was worried I’d wake the kid.” “Do you want to do it again?” “Ok, here it comes” “Homeland” “So good” – Bobby and Andi’s enjoy themselves on the sofa, loudly
– #veryverysingle should be a new Facebook relationship status, only if hashtags were allowed
– “Either turn the TV up or turn the breastpump down” – Will can only watch one thing at once
– “Kate I think you need to cast a wider net…You’re still looking for the same dude you were looking for in your twenties. And now you’re older” Everyone else leaves the room at this point – you wouldn’t like Kate when she’s angry
– “Nut cheese for everyone” – does this need any explanation
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Daniel Matcham – @boymetworld91