After a few misfires since “Will & Grace,” producers David Kohan and Max Mutchnick have taken the maxim, “Write what you know,” to heart, devising their new comedy, “Partners,” around a professional relationship and friendship between a straight and gay man, much like their own. Like CBS’ “2 Broke Girls,” most of the jokes hover just below the belt, with Michael Urie’s gay character as the flamboyant Jack, essentially, to David Krumholtz’s (now-straight) Will. Fresh it’s not, but the network is doubtless hoping the series can catch on with an assist from “How I Met Your Mother.”
In theory, the matter-of-fact connection between Joe (“Numbers'” Krumholtz) and Louis (“Ugly Betty’s” Urie) represents modest progress in a broad-based venue like CBS’ Monday lineup, although “broad” is the term that repeatedly comes to mind. Beyond their sexuality, Joe is the buttoned-up one who resists taking chances, pointing out that Louis’ spontaneity has left him with “a tattoo of Clay Aiken on your ass.”
In the pilot directed by James Burrows — which in sitcom terms is like handing the baseball to Sandy Koufax — Joe is debating whether he should propose to girlfriend Ali (Sophia Bush), whose beauty has him thinking with his “schmeckel,” as Louis puts it. Louis, meanwhile, is involved with a handsome nurse (“Superman Returns'” Brandon Routh), who seems good-natured about the fact his boyfriend insists on telling everyone he’s a doctor.
The pilot captures what appears to be the central dynamic — Louis’s mouth getting him (and Joe) into trouble, but whatever ‘splainin’ he might have to eventually do, rest assured his heart is in the right place. The pattern even repeats in episode two, when Joe lets slip he and Ali haven’t had sex in awhile.
Building a show around four people and three couples — two of the romantic variety, along with Joe and Louis’ life-long friendship-turned-business partnership as architects — has potential; still, the tone and emphasis on double entendres suggest “Partners'” aspirations are limited. Indeed, the pilot’s only moment that didn’t feel completely predictable involved a quote from “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance.”
In its first season, “2 Broke Girls” demonstrated it’s possible to hit paydirt on CBS with a comedy when the casting and chemistry are right, even if the writing is formulaic. That said, “Partners'” timeslot hammock — while initially an asset — leaves the show vulnerable if it looks like it’s in any way becoming a drag on “Girls,” the sophomore comedy now being asked to anchor Monday night.
CBS’ comedy block has fared quite well without particularly challenging its audience, and “Partners” — beyond embracing gays in a way no more adventurous than “Will & Grace” did during the Clinton administration — fits the mold. The show isn’t necessarily bad; if only it thought with something other than its schmeckel.