Significantly improved from the version ABC bought last spring, this character-driven drama is still built on a fragile premise — the lone single guy, a self-proclaimed “seventh wheel,” affixed to a trio of couples. But at least now it exhibits some genuine promise. Granted, having the title character pining for his best friend’s gal is about as original as an old Cars hit, but it’s a solid enough jumping-off point for a “thirtysomething”-type series that could possess considerable femme appeal if these characters can outgrow their little boxes.
Poor Brian (Barry Watson) awakens to the fact he’s in love with Marjorie (Sarah Lancaster), who is dating his buddy Adam (Matthew Davis). In fact, he’s pretty sure his recent relationships have foundered because he compares every potential mate to her.
In the premiere, Brian hooks up with an eccentric girl he meets through a traffic accident (guest Amy Jo Johnson, an alumna of producer J.J. Abrams’ “Felicity”), which only crystallizes his ardor for Marjorie. Nor does it help that Adam possesses a roving eye and young-Kevin Costner smile, representing the sort of beautiful frat-boy type for whom conquests doubtless come easy.
Fleshing out the cast is Brian’s sister (Rosanna Arquette), grappling with the issues surrounding late-in-life pregnancy; and his hapless married-with-children business partner Dave (Rick Gomez), whose relationship with Deena (Amanda Detmer) has fizzled to the point where they’re discussing an open marriage.
Created by Dana Stevens under Abrams’ banner, the series achieves a breezy quality, with a degree of energy greatly enhanced by the preem’s top-flight song score. There’s also some clever writing, such as Johnson’s angry young woman failing to distinguish between serial monogamy and serial killing.
Watson proves moderately likable in the key title role, while Davis deftly portrays Adam as someone who’s hard to root for but by no means a bad guy, making the prospect of Brian and Marjorie betraying him more ethically thorny.
Indeed, in a more conventional movie romance, Adam would stray in the third act, clearing the way for a Brian-Marjorie hookup. As is, she’s conflicted in the second episode after introducing Brian to a nurse who clearly isn’t worthy of him — if for nothing else than her lack of familiarity with “This Is Spinal Tap.”
Of course, any serialized romance that hinges on keeping two people apart requires considerable ingenuity, so crafting intriguing subplots will be vital if the show’s going to have any kind of legs. And while “What About Brian” strikes some of the familiar chords about love, angst and the terror of young adulthood that have viewers swooning over “Grey’s Anatomy,” the show does so in a more laid-back tone, which should make its leap from a post-“Desperate Housewives” launch to its regular Monday moorings a commercial challenge.
At the very least, though, it’s a great title.