[07/29/05 - 12:00 AM]
The Futon's First Look: "What About Brian" (ABC)
By Brian Ford Sullivan (TFC)

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With the official start of the 2005-06 season less than two months away, the drumbeats have begun by the networks to tout their new comedies and dramas. What should you keep your eye out for? What should you avoid at all costs? While it's still a little early for full reviews (some recasting and reshooting will be done on a good chunk of them), we thought we'd spend the next month previewing what's in store for the upcoming season. Each day we'll look at two of the 47 new series set to premiere this season and go over our initial impressions after viewing the pilot.

There's no particular order here, just whatever's next on the stack of tapes. So without further ado, here's today's entries:

(Mondays at 10:00/9:00c at midseason)

The network's description: "Brian is the guy everyone wants as a best friend. He's the guy who'll stand by you at your wedding, drive you to the hospital, cheer your kids on at their little league game... the guy whom every wife dotes on and every husband wants to either grab a beer with or live vicariously through. But as all of his friends pair off and Brian emerges as the last bachelor standing, questions begin to arise in his head: Is there such a thing as Mr. or Mrs. Right? Why does love have to be so complicated? What is his problem with commitment? And the most pressing question of all -- could all of his problems stem from the fact that he is harboring a crush on his best friend�s girl? At 34, Brian is the last single guy in his group of friends: his best friend, Adam, was going to break up with picture-perfect Marjorie, but proposed instead. Brian's sister, Nic, and her boy-toy husband, Angelo, are trying hard to have kids. The bohemian Dave and Deena have three little girls and no sex life. And, like all married people, they can't wait for Brian to join their "club," though they're not exactly sure why. As for Brian, well, he's a serial monogamist but still holds out hope that one day he'll open the door and be blinded by love. �What About Brian� is from the producers of �Lost� and �Alias� and the screenwriter of �City of Angels� and �For Love of the Game.�"

What did they leave out: That covers it more or less.

The plot in a nutshell: As the last unmarried member of his group of L.A.-based friends, Brian (Barry Watson) begins to wonder why he's "the last man standing" so to speak. He's once again hit a relationship wall, this time with his current live-in girlfriend (Amy Jo Johnson), and looks to his best friends for advice. Dave (Rick Gomez), whom Brian runs a video game business with, is of no help, himself being trapped in a sexless marriage with three kids to Deena (Amanda Detmer). Neither is his sister Nic (Rosanna Arquette), who is too obsessed with getting pregnant by her boy-toy husband Angelo (Raoul Bova). And fellow best friend Adam (Matthew Davis) happens to be involved with the one possible reason why Brian can't get to the next level with his girlfriend: Marjorie (Polly Shannon, the latest in J.J. Abrams' astonishingly long line of out-of-nowhere leading ladies who people will no doubt fall in love with). To his surprise though, Adam confesses his own reservations about being with Marjorie, whom Brian has pined after since they both met her. Anyway, they decide to make a pact that they'll break up with their respective girlfriends and go at it alone again. Brian follows through on his end of the bargain (to much comic effect) while Adam has a last-minute revelation, choosing to ask Marjorie to get married instead. Crushed, Brian must now ask himself if he can afford to keep quiet about his feelings and whether or not to risk spoiling his friendships with both.

What works: It shouldn't work, but dammit it does. This is everything you've seen in the romantic comedy genre before (secret crush, check; commitment-phobic lead, check; etc.) but thanks to great casting, compelling actors, a tight script and feature-quality directing it all feels fresh and new. An enormous amount of credit has to go to Barry Watson, who manages to pull off a character that could easily come off as being a major league asshole. And damn if it doesn't have one of the best final acts of a pilot this year (featuring another rom-com staple - the rush to the airport) that again, shouldn't work, but does. Overall, it literally feels like a miniature 45-minute movie and I couldn't help but get swept away.

What doesn't: Because it feels like a movie, there's that nagging question of how it will work as a series. The pilot ends in a way that almost feels like it should be left alone. After all, you know what's going to happen as the show goes on - either Brian ends up with Marjorie or he doesn't - and part of me wishes it would stay in its current, picture perfect state rather than see its end result. But since that's not going to be the case, the question then becomes how strong a series it will make. Working against it is that outside of Brian, Marjorie and Adam, the rest of the cast by comparison feels decidedly underwhelming. For instance, a subplot involving Dave and Deena considering an open marriage feels more distracting than interesting while there's almost zero time spent developing Dave and Brian's job as video game developers despite spending a lot of time there. Nevertheless, the show gets a few fun sparks between Brian and Angelo's confrontational relationship so there's certainly some potential for life beyond the central love triangle. In any case, I definitely have high hopes for this show.

The challenges ahead: With "Monday Night Football" entering its last season on ABC, can "Brian" be the network's beachhead into year-round scripted programming on the night? And are ABC viewers ready for a primetime soap without the satirical edge of "Desperate Housewives" or the procedural-esque friendliness of "Grey's Anatomy?" We'll find out in January on ABC.

  [july 2005]  


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