That same old ride

That same old ride
It is not unforgivable — at first glance — to mistake the new CBS comedy Friends with Better Lives as an extension of that comedic titan from the mid-1990s, Friends. 

The setup is similar. 

The story revolves around six “chums” and their various misbegotten, supposedly funny antics, while navigating that sometimes bewildering world of relationships and coupling. 

But while Friends covered the lives of a sextet of Caucasian 20-somethings, trying to get somewhere in their lives, Friends with Better Lives is about a clique of 30-somethings, well-established in their careers, but on the downward plunge from divorce, bad relationships and marital rut. 

The setup is designed to pander to the age-old suspicion that no matter where anyone is in their love lives, they are actually missing out on the real fun. 

The execution, however, falls flat on its face.
 
At the show’s core is the recently-divorced Will (James Van Der Beek), a reasonably successful obstetrician/gynaecologist who, having lost his wife (and home), moves in with his business partner Bobby Lutz (Kevin Connolly) and spouse Andi (Majandra Delfino). 

Come nightfall, everyone ends up in Lutz’s living room — which is this show’s equivalent of Central Perk — because in this world, attachments run deep. So deep that the cellphone, as an invention, does not exist.

Thrown in the bag are Andi’s old sorority sisters, Jules (Brooklyn Decker), a blonde ditz carrying vague undertones of Jennifer Aniston, and Kate (Zoe Lister-Jones), a dominatrix, spinster-in-the-making. 

Completing the cast is Jules’s new boyfriend, Lowell (Rick Donald), a new-age vegan who owns an Indian restaurant, speaks of his love of gardening, the horrors of animal slaughter and is predictably Australian. 

Because when it apparently comes down to it, only Australians, with their wild-child upbringing, have the sufficient sexuality and empty-headed abandon to be both attractive and preposterous at the same time. 

The characters are largely one-dimensional clones of previous sitcom discards. 

Yet, Kate seems to have the most potential. She has all the best one-liners, the most spunk, and runs through first dates faster than she can floss her luminous teeth.

She also appears to carry the dead weight of the series on her shoulders.

Then there is the near-X-rated dialogue. 

This latest sitcom seems determined to cram as many sexual innuendos within 22-minutes of programming as possible.

This is also the kind of series which — like Friends — will prove vastly more popular outside the US than within. After all, its promises of white, attractive libertines romping, sometimes plodding knee deep through seminal fluid in the American singles-scene, caters to vicarious thrills. 

True, its characters exude a sort of glowing dysfunctionality, but the show offers the reassuring message that no matter what problems may come, everything will turn out alright — and with a laugh.

Show creator Dana Klein’s entire career has revolved around comedy. Unsurprisingly, she also spent three seasons on Friends as a writer before working her way up to supervising producer.

None of these experiences have helped her elevate this tired, grating excuse for a sitcom.

If 1990’s Seinfeld pioneered the use of comedy to portray the lives of shallow, judgmental singles unleashed on the dating arena, then Friends with Better Lives shows us how low this sub-genre can stoop. 

Seinfeld’s genius lay in its gift to find humour in the absurdity and banality of adult lives. 

This show tries to get the same rise by showing us a woman sexually ravaging a hamburger (echoing that famous diner scene in When Harry met Sally); a couple who find passion (and flatulence) in the throes of pregnancy, and two friends who become entangled with a drunken bisexual. 

Is this interesting stuff? Maybe for some. For others, it is cringe-worthy and certainly not funny. 

Just banal. 

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