Adapted from an Israeli series, “Traffic Light” (formerly “Mixed Signals”) has acquired a nondescript name, but borrowing its red-yellow-green metaphor for relationships, the flashing yellow “Caution” sign turns to a qualified green by the steadily improving third and fourth episodes. Picking up one of this year’s “Modern Family”-inspired mini-trends — three couples at different stages — the show possesses an irreverent charm and concocts some truly wacky situations. While hardly a breakthrough, this Fox comedy should be a neater fit on the night with “Glee” and lead-in “Raising Hope,” whose tepid ratings create the dubious advantage of tempering expectations.
Another guy-centric comedy that will have to woo women in order to succeed, “Traffic Light” might be the first U.S. series designed primarily to celebrate the joy of hands-free calling. Three buddies spend most of their spare time yakking on the phone as they motor around, swapping playful insults about their various lots in life.
The burly Mike (“The Office’s” David Denman) is a new father married to the diminutive Lisa (Liza Lapira), and so desperate for alone time he secretly hangs out in his car on the street, watching a DVD of “Iron Man”; Adam (Nelson Franklin) — the ostensible protagonist, getting peppered with advice from both sides — has just moved in with girlfriend Callie (Aya Cash), which of course represents an adjustment; and paramedic Ethan (Kris Marshall) remains a bachelor, one who becomes agitated when a woman so much as dares to leave a toothbrush in his house.
As a traffic cop might say, so far, nothing much to see here, move along. But after a workmanlike pilot, the show begins to hit its groove — dealing with issues pertaining to the “bro” code, like when it’s permissible to see a buddy’s ex socially; lying to one’s mate in order to carouse with your friends; whether a married guy can hang out with a single woman; and learning how to apologize to one’s wife or girlfriend with flowers, also known as the “bastard bouquet.”
Silly in places, the show seldom careens over the top, and manages to elicit periodic laughs from all three of its couplings, though the strategic marital ground war waged between Mike and Lisa will probably resonate best.
Speaking of unequal trios, “Traffic Light” comes on the heels of ABC’s “Better With You” and NBC’s “Perfect Couples,” suggesting there was clearly something percolating in the sitcom-development water this year.
While Fox’s entry isn’t perfect, compared with those shows it’s the best of the bunch, and — if the writing can sustain its later-episode quality — it ought to survive its early potholes. Should that happen, given the unflattering thoughts that fleetingly crossed my mind during the pilot, your bastard bouquet is in the mail.