I’m going to admit to being somewhat indifferent about Fox’s new comedy series Traffic Light prior to having seen it because on paper, it sounded like your run-of-the-mill couples-themed sitcom. In reality, it is, but there’s lot to love about this series.
I’ve been watching reruns of Friends lately. I saw just about every episode during its original run and rewatching it now, there are a couple of things I’ve noticed about the series. The first, is that while it occasionally dates itself with the clothes, hairstyles and pop-culture references, and on another level, it’s multi-camera format, it’s still a very funny sitcom. The second is that the show was never really about much more than the lives of a bunch of adults being friends. What worked about the series was the writing and the characters, which were evolved and fine-tuned over the years until they really did feel like our friends.
Having watched the first couple of episodes of Traffic Light, I’m reminded of Friends. Traffic Light isn’t a multi-camera comedy, nor is it filmed before an audience or set in New York City, however, like Friends, there’s no complex back-story or elaborate scenario on which the series is based. This is a show about a bunch of friends, a few of which went to college together. What works about the show, like Friends is a combination of great writing and fun, likable characters.
David Denman (The Office) plays Mike, who’s married to Lisa (Liza Lapira). They’re the “married couple with the baby,” however the baby seems like more of a prop right now than an integral part of the story. We’re introduced to Mike as he relaxes in the back of the minivan to watch Iron Man by himself.
Nelson Franklin (The Office, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World) plays Adam. He just moved in with his girlfriend Callie (Aya Cash) and is trying to adjust to giving up another slice of his independence. His introduction involves him getting pulled over for running a light while conferencing with his friends about what to get his girlfriend for a moving-in gift.
And lagging behind in the life-race is Ethan, played by Kris Marshall (Love Actually), the happy bachelor who occasionally charms women by complimenting their breasts (and gets away with it because of his charming British accent). Ethan’s introduced as he’s riding in his car alongside the only true commitment he has in his life, which is his adorable bulldog Carl.
Ethan, Mike and Adam may be at different stages of life but their friendship has stood the test of time. Denman, Franklin and Marshall are all individually funny and relatable, but together there's a real chemistry that works nicely. The pilot episode, part of which involves the three guys trying to figure out how to spend some time with each other doing guy things, (and away from their significant others), will give you a good sense of the brotherly nature they have with one another.
With a show like this, which seems to lean towards the male perspective, there’s a risk that the women in the series would be painted as obstacles or the punch line to the joke. Traffic Light does tread closely to that but not so much that Lisa and Callie are unlikable or portrayed as irritating, nagging spouses. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. They represent different perspectives in their respective relationships, but they’re as likable as their partners and add just the balance needed to make Traffic Light the kind of show men and women can enjoy together.
In my rewatches of Friends, I'm reminded that some of the best TV comes from great characters as opposed to a really elaborate premise. I’m not going to say that Traffic Light is the next Friends as I don’t like to say that one show is ever the next anything. They’re not the same types of shows, but there is a common thread here in simplicity of the plot and the potential of the characters. Traffic Light shows a lot of promise and has some truly laugh-worthy moments. There’s also a warmth to the show that’s subtle but adds more substance to the characters and the friendship they have with one another than I would have predicted from the promos. And there’s a sense of history in their relationship, which has the potential to be developed as the characters’ stories move forward.
Traffic Light’s one to watch with the spouse or with your friends. Either way, stop and check it out when it premieres on Fox on Tuesday, Feb. 8 (9:30-10:00 PM ET/PT).