‘We Are Men,’ get past the terrible title
New CBS fall sitcom about single guys is actually a smart show
September 18, 2013
It’s the faintest of faint praise to say of a TV show that it’s not as bad as it sounds. But sometimes that needs to be said: Certain shows have titles or subjects that seem designed to drive viewers away.
CBS’s new fall sitcom “We Are Men” has both.
The presumably ironic title suggests it will be one of those comedies about a bunch of boy-men in permanent arrested development. The show is, in fact, about four adult males who are trying to lead a wild single life while keeping serious romantic commitment on hold.
But the clever script and good cast transcend the premise and title. Although it’s about men living like bachelors, “We Are Men” is the kind of guy comedy that couples could enjoy together.
In the premiere episode, airing on Monday, Sept. 30, at 8:30 p.m., Carter (Chris Smith), abruptly dumped by his fiancée, moves into an apartment complex that’s described as “quality furnished short-term housing,” which he says is actually “a way station for guys who just got divorced, dumped or are otherwise incapable of buying a couch.”
His new friends there are Frank Russo (Tony Shalhoub), a middle-aged clothing manufacturer recovering from his fourth divorce; Gil Bartis (Kal Penn), whose wife “caught him having the world’s worst affair”; and Dr. Stuart Weber (Jerry O’Connell), whose first wife, a divorce lawyer, has just been hired by his second wife. The three friends make it their mission to help Carter move on.
While Carter and Gil hope they can get back together with their exes, Frank and Stuart want to play the field. Frank somehow manages to find a steady stream of younger women.
Carter frustratedly asks him, “Do you honestly think you can have a meaningful relationship with some random 25-year-old you meet at a Jamba Juice?”
Frank replies, “Is she Asian?”
The scenes of overconfident and arguably over-the-hill men trying their luck in bars and swimming pools are familiar, but the show has a way of tricking us with clichés that take a sudden turn.
When we see Gil being rejected with the line “I don’t want you to touch me,” we expect a truism about marital sex but get an entirely different joke. Frank sets up Carter on a double date with a middle-aged woman and her grown daughter and proceeds to walk away with the daughter.
The show even puts a fresh spin on the often copied or parodied interrupted-wedding scene from “The Graduate” — twice.
Although “We Are Men” shares the casual misogyny of most divorced-guy comedies — most of the women are buzz kills, dream crushers or round-heeled ciphers — it makes up for it with a sympathetic female character, Frank’s daughter, Abby (Rebecca Breeds).
Every time the guys look at her, Frank says, “No!” But Abby and Carter immediately bond over a shared love of basketball.
The script, by Rob Greenberg, is sprinkled with subtle jokes that keep us smiling. Stuart, mocking Carter for going to the farmers’ market with a date, says, “You don’t want to be late for that — the white nectarines go fast.”
“You joke,” says Gil, “but they do.”
As Carter, Chris Smith is a likable everyman. Everything Kal Penn says is a little funnier than it is on the page, and Jerry O’Connell deserves praise for his courage in wearing a revealing Speedo.
Tony Shalhoub is a talented actor, but even he can’t make us believe that Frank is scoring with a series of women less than half his age.
The situations may be both implausible and familiar, but the characters’ reactions are recognizably human and fresh. “We Are Men” is hardly sophisticated, but it’s sufficiently grown up.
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