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Some of My Best Friends

A gay-straight laffer stuck on old jokes about showtunes and Bette Midler, CBS' "Some of My Best Friends" doesn't live up to the spirit of "Kiss Me, Guido," the mildly sweet 1996 pic on which it's based. A little late to the party -- "Will & Grace" does this shtick so much better -- this mid-season entry nonetheless gets strong performances out of Danny Nucci and Jason Bateman as its two leading men.

Jason Bateman, Danny Nucci

A gay-straight laffer stuck on old jokes about showtunes and Bette Midler, CBS’ “Some of My Best Friends” doesn’t live up to the spirit of “Kiss Me, Guido,” the mildly sweet 1996 pic on which it’s based. A little late to the party — “Will & Grace” does this shtick so much better — this mid-season entry nonetheless gets strong performances out of Danny Nucci and Jason Bateman as its two leading men. But everyone else, from an overbearing mother to the freakishly feminine neighbor, is an exaggeration, and the themes they bring up don’t seem all that racy.

Having gone through a name change, the Eye web has settled for a rather generic title, proving how badly the network brass wants this sitcom to appeal to everybody while offending no one. And that’s only the first of many for-the-masses decisions on display here, along with cheap-shot one-liners that target alternative lifestyles and heavy-accented New Yorkers.

Nucci is Frankie Zito, a buff ladykiller who moves out of his parents’ house in order to follow his acting dream. Mom Connie (Camille Saviola) is a fiery woman who begs her sonny boy to stay at home, while restaurateur dad Joe (Joe Grifasi) is a straightshooter who never misses an opportunity to zing her.

Now on his own, Frankie answers a roommate ad with the accompanying acronym “G.W.M” (which he unbelievably thinks is short for “Guy With Money”). After that initial misunderstanding, Frankie eventually boards up with Warren (Bateman), a gay writer who loses his job right before his lover leaves him.

To paraphrase “The Odd Couple,” can two opposites share an apartment without driving each other crazy?

Pilot rushes to establish the characters via the easy route, attaching overused stereotypes to each role (Warren loves “Fiddler on the Roof,” while Frankie is a greased-hair goombah.) Their respective best friends are also straddled with the expected personality traits. Pino (Michael DeLuise) is the dumbbell who thinks that Warren’s “choice” is contagious, and Vern (Alec Mapa) is the queen-next-door who prances around with double entendres and a limp wrist.

The obvious comparisons to “Will & Grace” are not that out of whack; both series thumb their noses to some degree at TV’s hetero status quo. But NBC’s Emmy winner is edgy and smart compared to this rookie, which often sounds as if its writers think all of this sexual orientation speak is new to viewers. The film, helmed by Tony Vitale (who also co-wrote this first episode with Marc Cherry), was more suited to the human-interest side of things, especially since its players weren’t going for constant laughs.

The ensemble also needs work. While Bateman and Nucci have good chemistry, the major supporting players get tiresome. DeLuise is a nitwit who makes comments that are hard to accept (even for a close-minded jerk), while Mapa comes off more as a hardcore fairy caricature than an actual person; he really gets uncomfortably annoying after his initial scenes.

James Widdoes’ direction is smooth enough, helped enormously by the quickly paced dialogue. Tech credits are solid, but they hardly differentiate this from other half-hours about the single world.

Some of My Best Friends

CBS; Wed., Feb 28, 8 p.m.

  • Production: Filmed in Los Angeles by Paramount Network Television in association with Axelrod/Widdoes Entertainment. Executive producers, Jonathan Axelrod, James Widdoes, Marc Cherry, Judd Pilot, John Peaslee; producer, Julie Tsutsui; director, Widdoes; writers, Cherry, Tony Vitale.
  • Crew: Camera, Richard Hissong; production designer, Terry Welden; editor, Mike Wilcox; music, Steven Cahill; casting, Dava White. 30 MIN.
  • Cast: Frankie Zito - Danny Nucci Warren Fairbanks - Jason Bateman Meryl Doogan - Jessica Lundy Pino Palumbo - Michael DeLuise Vern Limoso - Alec Mapa Connie Zito - Camille Saviola Joe Zito - Joe Grifasi