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Let’s get it right out of the way that CBS only put out the pilot episode of their The Odd Couple reboot for review, and as the history of television has taught us, the first episode of a series can often be the worst in retrospect. Series need time to find their footing, especially comedies that have to rely more on sense of humor than plot to hook an audience. And still I say with confidence that this is the most pointless remake that I’ve ever seen. It is still 1970, right?
One minute into The Odd Couple, re-developed for CBS by Matthew Perry and Mad About You creator Danny Jacobson, and audiences should immediately realize what the network put together. Slovenly sports radio host Oscar Madison (Matthew Perry) deals with a generic sports reference, which draws a huge laugh from the studio audience, and it’s followed by another giant laugh at the fact that he’s not wearing any pants. (The LEGO Movie’s prophecies are proven correct once more.) Soon, Oscar reveals he’s trying to get a woman by putting his mail in her mailbox so that she has to bring it to him. I kept waiting for Watergate references and someone getting hit with a cream pie, but things didn’t quite get there.
As the story goes, Oscar connects with his old buddy Felix Unger, played with pronounced compulsiveness by Thomas Lennon, and the two bond over their failed relationships, with Felix soon moving into (and cleaning the shit out of) Oscar’s man cave. (It comes complete with a TV wall and an LED ticker, and somewhere, Tim Allen is grunting.) Oscar’s ex-wife Gabby left him, and he’s filled that void with boozing, womanizing and letting his apartment turn into a collection of stuff-piles. (Perry even sounds like he’s got a medicated slur going on.) Felix, meanwhile, is in denial about his own crumbling marriage, and each man is the perfect catalyst for the other man’s emotional breakthrough.
But it all involves high-decibel honk-crying from Felix and hornball-stubbled swagger from Perry, and the show often feels less like a new take on old material than an old take on even older material. Even as the audience is watching the two main characters deal with their respective emotionally-lite women issues in mostly clichéd manners, we also get another “happily married” character who makes an anti-wife joke straight out of a Married With Children clone. The Odd Couple wants to have its vegan cake and eat it, too, while making fun of it because meatless foods aren’t manly.
Perry and Lennon are at the forefront of The Odd Couple’s biggest draw: Its amazing cast. Almost all of whom, beyond Lennon, could have easily phoned it in from the set of Two and a Half Men. Oscar’s man-man-man buddies are played by The Wire’s Wendell Pierce and NewsRadio’s Dave Foley, and I can only hope that these stellar actors get a lot more to do as the season wears on, because ouch. Community’s Yvette Nicole Brown plays Oscar’s assistant Dani, but she’s not around long enough to make a difference. About a Boy’s Leslie Bibb gets the third biggest role, as the neighbor whose mail is being conned by Oscar, and she’s as competent as the material allows her to be. Her sister is played by Horrible Bosses’ Lindsay Sloane in nerdy divorcee mode.
For all that I don’t understand its point of view, The Odd Couple isn’t the worst show on the air right now. There were genuinely funny moments, although the two biggest laughs involved an old sandwich and a fondue pun, so make of that what you will. The opening credits sequence is a nice throwback to the classic original sitcom (it should be noted producer Garry Marshall is also executive producing here) but it’s a little too reminiscent of the time when playwright Neil Simon first conceived the story. That pretty much sums up the pilot as a whole. Let’s all hope things get way more Odd than hackneyed from here on out.
The Odd Couple will premiere on CBS on Thursday, February 19 at 8:30 p.m. ET.