Guys with Kids is emblematic of the new NBC. Despite the (initial) success and critical acclaim that came with the inventive, challenging and risky 'Must-See' comedies like The Office, 30 Rock, Parks and Recreation and, especially, Community this season marks the beginning of the end of the network trying something fresh. That may sound like a harsh over generalization but it's true, and the proof is in the pudding. And the pudding is basically each and every one of the Peacock network's new half-hour series, perhaps none more demonstrative of the change in attitude than Guys With Kids. At least, so it seems after two episodes.
From Executive Producers Jimmy Fallon, Charlie Grandy and Amy Ozols, Guys With Kids, as you can probably guess from the title, is about three guys with kids. So, the title isn't that wildly imaginative either (in fact, I keep confusing it with the recent film Friends With Kids), except for the fact that, so far at least, the sitcom isn't really about the struggles of fatherhood but instead simply uses the children as another of many comedic props as well as the impetus for many conflicts. Don't expect Modern Family, GWK is much more 90s and could easily be described as the offspring of Friends and Everybody Loves Raymond.
Dealing more with traditional relationship based problems, like forgotten anniversaries and 'threes a crowd' jealousy, the series has a lot less to do with the titular kids than you might think. The babies (as well as the older children) pretty much just dangle in their 'Bjorns' while their 'Guys,' Anthony Anderson, Jesse Bradford and Zach Cregger, get into trouble with their significant others (or exes) played by Tempestt Bledsoe, Erinn Hayes and Jamie-Lynn Sigler or hang out at the local pub called Central Perk. Sorry, Cagneys.
The pilot was riddled with exposition and, in a new trend, ended up buried in sneak peaks and online viewings while the second episode, "Chris' New Girlfriend," slid into the proper premiere spot last night. I wouldn't say the followup was a significant improvement upon the first - the tone, situations and, therefore, comedy were all the same - except that is was far less preoccupied with ensuring the audience knew who everybody was and how the pieces fit together. Conveniently, they not only all share history but they now live in the same building! Such good Friends.
The cast is probably too good for the material, with newcomer Cregger (who reminded me of Ryan Reynolds) often stealing the show. His family, with Sigler, is by far the most engaging, believable, funny and sweet. Anderson and Bledsoe offer high energy and volume but little else and lastly, Bradford and Hayes are bringing up the bottom. He's painfully plain but still a step up from Hayes' bitchy ex-wife who seems like a poor play on Christa Miller's character from Scrubs. They even look the same. Too bad the series didn't also share the medical comedy's wit, silliness or (and especially) its penchant to stray from the beaten path.
Guys With Kids is purposefully old fashioned but despite the good-intention-paved road, it's hard to turn back time and embrace the live studio audience as well as the other dated trappings. Not that the experience is exactly hellish, just insignificant. It would fit in perfectly during the day with all the 90s reruns but somehow it's centre stage as part of the network's comedy rebranding and, since the challenging series are all on the way out, don't be surprised if the easily digestible series not only finds an audience but makes its way to a new 'Must-See' Thursday night.
So it's not a particularly rewarding half-hour of comedy, but Guys With Kids is also not nearly as bad as it looked. Plus, the retro feel as well as straightforward storytelling will only help it gain favor with the network brass sick of having to constantly 'save' more daring series like Community from poor ratings. My days of tuning into the program might be numbered but, as an unabashed fan of the 'failing' sitcoms (and hater on basically all the top rated half-hours like Big Bang) that might actually be a good sign for NBC. The third episode of Guys with Kids, "The Standoff," airs next Wednesday at 8:30 p.m. ET on NBC. Oh, and if you missed the pilot and want to catch up, you can still watch it at NBC.com or on Hulu.