Mercifully re-edited since it was premiered for TV critics in the summer, “Coupling” has reduced the crassness and now has a fighting chance to become a successful British import. It won’t come easy, though, as the cast has no likable characters, motivations for every act are sexual, and the moronic men vs. wily women theme has been played out.
While it sounds like it’s in need of a complete revamp, “Coupling” does fits into the small window that celebrates titillation over character development, but does so with a smart blend of brash and innuendo. What made it startling to Brit auds is certainly not discernable in the domestic version — there’s nothing here that hasn’t been seen or heard on “Friends.” In fact, a quick glance at “Friends” shows how this formula is worked successfully; a look at any highly sexual episode of “Seinfeld” — the one that explored “moves” for example — shows how far down the creative pole sexual humor has slid.
“Coupling” is led by three men and three women who, halfway through the pilot, should be going their separate ways. But in a convoluted world that finds a big-city dating pool limited to one bar and one restaurant, no matter who may be broken up with whom is bound to run into each other. As one says at the end of the pilot: we all have baggage — let’s take it to dinner.
The goal of “Coupling” appears to be getting Steve (Jay Harrington) and Susan (Rena Sofer) to hook up, the first obstacle being Jane (Lindsay Price), who refuses to accept Steve’s attempts to break up with her. She lures him back by mentioning her interest in bisexual experiences and threesomes. Steve, in turn, has no will power to stick with his plan.
Susan’s ex is Patrick (Colin Ferguson), who’s confident he can get any woman he wants, including Susan’s best friend, Sally (Sonya Walger), whose greatest care, and fear, is aging. Jeff (Christopher Moynihan) provides the thread — he works with Susan and is best friends with Steve. He’s also so unlucky in love, the bulk of the jokes are at his expense.
In the time span and circumstances that only a sitcom can provide, everyone plays nice and the sextet winds up in the most unlikely of places, a funeral. Proof that the writers have begun to add a little depth to the series, a routine based on the suppression of laughter plays out decently in front of the casket.
By the end of the second episode, too, the women are full of good intentions, the men are strictly lustful. It limits the males to shtick, making it difficult to decide if Harrington, Ferguson or Moynihan are bringing anything distinct to their roles. They’re all numbskulls when it comes to romance, and this show has little use for any locale beyond the bedroom. Oh, and that corner bar, which is far more believable in London.
The women fare a bit better, even if Price’s Jane is strictly flighty. She’s got a malicious side to her that could be wonderful to watch if something substantial is made of it. Credit Sofer for, if nothing else, creating a real, believable character. Walger was the one good thing about HBO’s “Mind of the Married Man,” which makes it troubling that her character is “Coupling’s” most one dimensional. Fretting over the effects of age has a limited shelf life.
Andrew D. Weyman’s direction involves the shuffling of a large number of characters and getting points of view from a range of views. “Coupling,” oddly enough, is funniest when the characters are standing still.