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All of us who are living or have lived through the late-20s/ early-30s stage of our lives have a pretty good idea of how awkward it can be. In college, the entire group of friends is on the same page. Everyone is striving toward graduation, and pretty much everyone has the same general outlook. Personalities might be different, but most of the life checkpoints are the same. The decade that follows, however, is the exact opposite. Some get married. Some have children. Some become career-focused. Some jump back-and-forth between jobs. Everyone runs in completely different directions, and all the sudden, all of the common ground becomes a lot less common. It’s a frustrating, fascinating and awkward time in every group of friends, and it’s into this subject matter that Friends With Better Lives leaps.
The new CBS comedy premiered last night after How I Met Your Mother’s frustrating finale. During its run-time, it touched on the majority of these issues as it mined the lives of six people who can be described with terms like married, divorced, engaged, single, impulsive, boring, angry, happy, successful and drifting. In short, they’re all remarkably different, and there’s a nice balance to the ensemble. It feels like the type of show that could actually have something to say, and at various moments during the pilot, it really did. But in order to survive, it will need to change.
You see, there are two different ways a show like Friends With Better Lives can go. There’s the straight up comedy route, as seen in enjoyable-enough CBS offerings like The Millers and then there’s more of a serious comedy route as seen in something like Parks And Recreation, in which the characters encounter real hardships that carry over week to week. Given its subject matter, Friends With Better seems to want to be the latter kind of show, which is great, but in order to do so effectively, it needs to cut back on all the cheap jokes and its willingness to manipulate serious situations to coax out a few more laughs.
Let me give you an example. Early on in the pilot, the characters played by James Van Der Beek, Kevin Connolly and Majandra Delfino are all sitting around talking about how Van Der Beek's wife had sex with another man. He calls it an accident. The other two ridicule him for his choice of words before Delfino casually mentions that she once accidentally sat on a carrot. That’s funny in a knee-jerk, surprise kind of way, but it ultimately undermines the seriousness of the conversation, as does the fact that the estranged wife in question had sex with their couples therapist. Why couldn't she have sex with just a random dude? That's a real situation people encounter, but because it was the couples therapist, it doesn’t feel like the comedy is looking at real life for places with sad humor potential, it feels like the show is contorting the situation to squeeze out extra laughs.
All of the best shows have something honest to say. Even straight-up comedies like Seinfeld have a really clever and enlightening viewpoint on society and types of people. In between the laughs, we learn something and we see ourselves. Everytime Friends With Benefits delivers one of its groan-worthy jokes, however, it takes the viewer out of the moment and short changes the honest commentary on the late 20s/ early 30s it's also trying to make.
There is real potential here, but in order to be more than just a disposable comedy that will likely be cancelled, the writers need to cut out 10% of the jokes and get a whole lot more serious. Sometimes less is more.
Friends With Better Lives airs on Mondays at 9 PM EST on CBS.