With “Two and a Half Men” signing off, CBS will try to fill the void by shrinking the formula to two admittedly very familiar men, named Felix and Oscar. Matthew Perry completes his potentially dubious post-“Friends” hat trick — having starred in comedies for NBC and ABC as well — with this reboot of “The Odd Couple,” a beloved series that still derives some kick from Neil Simon’s blueprint, but also feels especially dated in this day and age, what with Felix as the nonsexual spouse, essentially, to Oscar’s slovenly husband. Good casting provides some hope, but this still feels oh-so-20th century.
Only a few lines from Simon’s original make it into the pilot, but they provide a spiritual link to the source. In addition, Garry Marshall, who adapted the show to TV, serves as a consultant, with Bob Daily, an alum of “Frasier” and “Desperate Housewives,” as showrunner.
Thomas Lennon, meanwhile, tries somewhat vainly to differentiate himself from Tony Randall’s take on Felix, whose allergies and quirks — from cooking to an obsession with neatness — clash with Perry’s disheveled manliness as Oscar, elevated from sportswriter to the role of sports talkradio host because, as we all know, print is for saps and losers. Absurdly, Oscar has his very own video wall to monitor games, which must put him somewhere in Rush Limbaugh’s tax bracket.
Once again, the action gets going with Felix having been booted by his wife, temporarily taking up residence with the divorced Oscar, who is busily trying to get busy with a comely neighbor (Leslie Bibb, in a merely recurring role). That provides a way of introducing said neighbor’s neurotic sister, Emily, played by Lindsay Sloane, who represents a sort-of female version of Felix, giving him someone with whom to bond. So the two women are sisters, just not of the Cuckoo Pigeon variety.
Over the years “The Odd Couple” has been an extraordinarily durable concept on stage and screen, whether rewritten for women or simply ripped off. But this still feels, ultimately, both conceptually flawed and a test of how much goodwill Perry — who shares writing credit on the premiere with Danny Jacobson and Joe Keenan — has left as Chandler Bing recedes further into the rear-view mirror.
In one of the few modern flourishes, while being gay wasn’t part of the conversation in the 1968 movie, it’s addressed overtly here, from Emily’s husband having left her for a man to Oscar saying about Felix, “He seems incredibly gay, but he’s not.” Not that there’s anything wrong with that.
The quality supporting players also include Wendell Pierce (seemingly recycled from his role in “The Michael J. Fox Show”) and guest Dave Foley as Oscar’s poker buddies, and there is one genuinely laugh-out-loud sight gag at the opener’s very end, although that probably comes too late to spray enough air freshener over this revival to cause Felix to honk and wheeze.
For CBS, “Men’s” exit hastens the sense of urgency to replenish its comedy arsenal, which has too often looked — ratings-wise, and to some extent, qualitatively — like “The Big Bang Theory” surrounded by dwarf stars. The network has also given the show about as felicitous a launch platform as it could offer for sampling purposes, sandwiched between CBS’ megahit and “Men’s” one-hour finale.
Perhaps “The Odd Couple” will begin that reloading process. But given how tired the show feels already, if the collective response from the younger audience the network covets is signed “FU,” for once, that actually might not mean Felix Unger.