Given TV's dearth of hit comedies, CBS has enjoyed more than its share of success by slightly tweaking the traditional format. It scores again with "The Class," a dead-on companion to one of last season's most pleasant surprises, "How I Met Your Mother."
Given TV’s dearth of hit comedies, CBS has enjoyed more than its share of success by slightly tweaking the traditional format. It scores again with “The Class,” a dead-on companion to one of last season’s most pleasant surprises, “How I Met Your Mother.” Graced by a general sense of warmth, a few very funny moments and a semi-serialized plot, this bright half-hour has “Friends” co-creator David Crane and partner Jeffrey Klarik as its creative guiding lights and a promising assortment of characters. In the mostly undistinguished roll call of new comedies, it goes to the head of the class.If nothing else, there’s a stroke of sheer demographic genius in the premise, creating a built-in excuse for crafting a series around a group of 28-year-olds. The fact they all happen to be white is another “Friends”-like matter, though one that will be easy enough to rectify by adding faces should the show endure. Set up involves Ethan (Jason Ritter) trying to surprise his fiancee by assembling members of their third-grade class, which was where the two met 20 years earlier. Not surprisingly, the assorted kids have followed a divergent set of paths, with one, Richie (Jesse Tyler Ferguson), prepping to commit suicide when, almost on a whim, he opts to answer the phone instead. The party, of course, yields all kinds of unintended consequences, including Holly (Lucy Punch), still grappling with the fact her ex-boyfriend Kyle (Sean Maguire) turned out to be gay (she’s married, but to someone who also seems to know the entire Liza Minelli songbook); Duncan (Jon Bernthal), the guy living at home who never got over his now unhappily married former girlfriend (Andrea Anders, seeking a measure of redemption post-“Joey,” while David Keith has been added as her boisterous, much-older hubby). All told, there are plenty of moving parts here, and Crane remains both deft with one-liners and capable of injecting romantic heart into these flawed characters who, once reunited, begin to have a major impact on lives that aren’t turning out quite as envisioned. The comedic chops also hold up in subsequent episodes, which not only showcase Ferguson’s sad-sack character but also Holly’s spouse, Perry (Sam Harris), whose wild antics — he’s even named their daughter Oprah — exhibit real breakout potential. Once again, CBS demonstrates the multicamera-and-couch template isn’t so much broken as bent and sagging in the middle, waiting simply for solid writing, an engaging cast and the hook of continuing storylines to prop up the furniture. And while a freshman show asked to open the night likely won’t be a major hit, it should fit seamlessly into a lineup that proves there’s still room for an old-fashioned “Class” clown.