[08/05/05 - 12:00 AM]
The Futon's First Look: "Courting Alex" (CBS, Original Pilot)
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:

(TBA at midseason)

The network's description: "EVERYTHING I KNOW ABOUT MEN stars Jenna Elfman ("Dharma & Greg") in a comedy about Bex Atwell (Elfman), an attractive secretary with simple goals: find true love, have an exciting career and a normal relationship with her father. But in a world where men behave like, well´┐Żmen, she realizes that she may be overly ambitious. Now, Bex is determined to figure out what men are all about while wondering why women even bother to try to understand them in the first place. Brady Smith ("Just Pray"), Hugh Bonneville ("Doctor Zhivago"), Rhea Seehorn ("Romy and Michele: In the Beginning"), Lauren Tom ("Friends") and Dabney Coleman ("Nine to Five") also star."

What did they leave out: "Men" is actually the U.S. version of the BBC comedy "According to Bex" with creator Fred Barron being the mind behind both versions. That and the show's "gimmick" is that it randomly cuts to "man on the street" interviews in which strangers comment on the action.

The plot in a nutshell: The men in Bex Atwell's (Jenna Elfman) life suck - her boyfriend Rob (Brady Smith), an unemployed artist, isn't phased by her decision that they should see other people; her womanizing dad (Dabney Coleman) only drops by when he needs a place to stay; and her boss (Hugh Bonneville) gives her all his work so he can focus on feuding with his ex-wife. Her only solace is her two friends at the advertising agency she works at - man-eater Christine (Rhea Seehorn) and cynical Jan (Lauren Tom). The pilot introduces us to Bex's relationship with each, which includes everything from finding fake dog testicles for her boss's dog to going speed dating with Christine so she can find a sperm donor to having Rob mistakenly think Bex's dad is her new boyfriend.

What works: Like fellow midseason entry "Old Christine," "Men" is a relatively harmless way to spend a half hour as it coasts by without much fanfare. The "man on the street" interviews add some much needed flair but unfortunately they don't blend seamlessly into the action. Overall, there's a few modest laughs but nothing consistent.

What doesn't: Sadly what is consistent is an unfunny joke about her boss wanting to find fake dog testicles for his recently neutered dog. There's literally a half-dozen references to it as it works its way through nearly every plotline. Dog testicles, really? One hopes that's not the gold standard for future episodes. In any case, I'd take "Men" (or even a swift kick to the shins) any day over fellow CBS newcomer "Out of Practice."

The challenges ahead: Is there a comedy spark to be found anywhere in here? On a network known for relatively bland humor no less? We'll find out some time next year on CBS.

  [august 2005]  


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