Do you remember on Friends when Ross thought about opening a divorced men's club where there'd be pool and basketball courts? After a guy she was dating got back together with his ex-wife, Phoebe told Ross that if they broke up again, he better not let that guy into his "sad men's club." Ross corrected her with "Divorced men's club," of course, and Phoebe said "Potato, potahto." That is pretty much the only thing that ran through my head while watching CBS' new not-quite alpha male comedy We Are Men.
And that's not a good thing. We Are Men may have invoked some nostalgic feelings, but they only made me long for that previous, better produced, and more interesting series while reminding me that this new series is taking place a decade later and still drawing on traditional tropes of the last few years rather than delivering something new and fresh.
We Are Men actually starts exactly like Happy Endings did-- with a young man (here Chris Smith) getting left at the alter-- only without all of the snark and wit and originality of a guy rolling in on roller blades or characters defying stereotypes. Similar start aside, there is no sameness to these two shows, the latter of which featured a nice blend of strong male and female characters, and the former-- this new one-- which is only interested in looking at women as former romantic partners or potential new romantic partners. It literally looks at women with typical male gaze. But like with the start of Happy Endings, the start of We Are Men spurs on the whole premise of the series, as Smith's Carter character has no place to live and moves into a complex absolutely swimming with single guys who may come from all walks of life but certainly share their unlucky in love trait.
Admittedly, this particular complex is co-ed and presumably not completely full of recently dumped people, but the only ones that matter to Carter and therefore the show are guys who are just as misguided as he is. There's Tony Shalhoub, who even in a comedy has always come across as somewhat sad, as self-described "ladies man", despite four ex-wives, Frank; there's the tanorexic Jerry O'Connell as successful doctor Stuart who is hiding all of his assets (but not himself, as he is partial to Speedos) until his divorce is final; and then there's the likeable but still boyish Kal Penn as a guy who was caught having the world's worst affair. These three have banded together in the building, and when Carter turns up, they decide to take him under their terribly misguided wings. If you're a guy of a certain age living vicariously through these, you may get a chuckle or two out of the show. If you're a woman or a guy of any other age, this isn't going to register on your radar at all. Nor should it.
We Are Men feels like another attempt at How to Be A Gentleman, only double the amount of dudes does not mean double the fun or funny. It hinges on antics abounding from an inciting incident. In the pilot, that's Carter trying to get back together with the girl who dumped him at the last minute, but what it can be for future episodes, we can only imagine. Lecherous barbecues probably thrown just to impress or attract one specific woman, someone inevitably getting locked out of an apartment, ex-wives showing up and "ruining" their manly fun. It all seems pretty basic and simple and perhaps just a touch dated. Shalhoub does seem like he's having fun playing a pretty gross guy, but there's nothing fun about watching a pretty gross guy-- especially if he has a grown daughter he wants to protect from gross guys with no sense of awareness that maybe he should change his own ways. Smith is a relative newcomer who manages to remind me of countless other "guys next door" who have come before him but never quite succeeded at leading man status. Especially romantic leading man status, even in a comedy. I'm not sure Smith can carry that wait either, but he is so gung ho to try, it's admirable-- even if he gets somewhat lost in all the broad sitcomy strokes of the other three around him.
We Are Men premieres on CBS on September 30 2013 at 8:30 p.m., but you can watch the pilot online right now at cbs.com.
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