Since the success of “The Hangover” movies, there’s been the expectation that someone would try to bottle that formula for TV. Fox gives it a go – down to the presence of Justin Bartha, the member of the Wolfpack who always disappeared before the craziness started – in “Cooper Barrett’s Guide to Surviving Life,” a fitfully funny comedy built around a group of twentysomething guys who keep finding themselves in epic and strange situations. Previewing four episodes offers a pretty good sense of the show’s conceit, which is innocuous but slim. Whether that augurs surviving on Fox is anyone’s guess.
In each half-hour, Cooper (Jack Cutmore-Scott) is introduced in some harrowing predicament, before flashing back to illustrate the series of pratfalls that landed him there, along with his buddies – Barry (James Earl), the jackass who, the show’s eponymous lead explains in voiceover during the premiere, constantly gets his pals into trouble; and Neal (Charlie Saxton of “Hung”), the group’s resident nerd. Also on the fringes, meanwhile, is Cooper’s older brother Josh (Bartha), a working stiff who’s married (to the talented if well-traveled Liza Lapira) with a baby on the way, and clearly desperate to reclaim some of his carefree youth, even if that means lying through his teeth to join them.
Finally, there’s Kelly (Meaghan Rath, a “New Girl” alum, put to better use here than she was in the pilot for NBC’s “Truth Be Told”), the dreamy neighbor to whom Cooper is immediately drawn. The feeling is mostly mutual, but their flirty banter and always-interrupted romantic moments don’t prevent him from chasing other girls, which will surely be helpful if this is going to endure beyond the initial order.
Created by Jay Lacopo, working with a team that includes former Fox chief Gail Berman, the show takes advantage of that sort of gestational limbo between college and full-blown adulthood, where the ordeals to be “survived” include insufficient funds (after running up a $1,400 bar tab), losing one’s cellphone (presented as a life-altering dilemma) and having to be the plus-one at a wedding. There’s a certain universal appeal to many of these predicaments, the question being how long Cooper’s Peter Pan routine can stay airborne.
A later episode, notably, provides a hint of slightly broader possibilities, with Cooper’s brother and sister-in-law so eager to hang out with a hip young friend that the latter’s interest in Kelly is misconstrued as a desire to have a threesome with her. That sort of playfulness, however, requires a level of finesse that the show doesn’t always exhibit, and that’s especially tough to replicate week in and out.
Mindful of “Cooper’s” cartoonish qualities, Fox has scheduled the show as the lone live-action entry in its Sunday comedy block (the animated “Bordertown” premieres the same night), where even some of the network’s moderately admired efforts (“The Last Man on Earth,” “Brooklyn Nine-Nine”) have gained at best a modest toehold. And while the show dovetails with Fox’s loose blueprint for recent comedy development, at this point the network appears to have something in common with the youthful protagonist, who, the title notwithstanding, is essentially making up the rules as he goes along.