Bitchy chicks wear Uggs, cool girls love football, married couples can still be hip if they have tattoos, and good guys drive vintage cars and yearn soulfully for true love — but not so soulfully that they won’t sleep around. These are the oh-so-slyly introduced tenets of ABC’s What About Brian, a beautifully packaged thirtysomething for Gen-Xers who want to think they’re not entirely yuppified and…thirtysomething.
Brian (7th Heaven’s Barry Watson) is the lone single in a group of well-groomed Angelenos with some of the most unreal real estate since Friends. He’s charming, sweet, and hung up on the fiancée of his best friend, Adam (Legally Blonde’s Matthew Davis, mildly less smarmy here).
For fellow Gen-Xers, I’ll put it in St. Elmo’s Fire-speak: Adam is ambitious, lustful Judd Nelson minus the overt cheating; Brian is deep, doting Andrew McCarthy but with some manhood; and Adam’s fiancée, Marjorie (Everwood’s Sarah Lancaster), is Ally Sheedy plus big boobs. And if you wondered in junior high why those guys were fighting over Sheedy’s bland preppy, then the analogy continues to work, because Marjorie is no stop-the-world woman — she’s a pretty pediatrician who’s a good-enough egg (see: loves football, is pleasant about ”boys’ night out”). It’s a bit of a dramatic pickle when every other actress on the show — including Rosanna Arquette as Brian’s predictably fertility-challenged older sister — has more to chew on. Particularly good is Amanda Detmer (Final Destination) as an inked-up mom of three who believes an open marriage may spice things up. Detmer does tremendously subtle things within that blatant story line: She’s the essence of smothered comfort.
Nice work, because Brian’s writing, while witty, tends to be oversize. Surprising, considering J.J. Abrams (Lost), who proved his smarts at relationship dramas with The WB’s Felicity, serves as an executive producer. One girl Brian dates (Felicity’s Amy Jo Johnson, no less) is so crazy she has an obsession with buying mattresses (weirdness has its own tipping point, and that’s way tipped); two key scenes hinge on messages left on an answering machine, a quaint device that most of us haven’t seen since… St. Elmo’s Fire. Meanwhile, Adam — a gelled, ogling lawyer who screams Corporate Tool — seems unworthy not only of Marjorie but of Brian too. It’s not a particularly painful love triangle if one of the points is dull. (Or, hmmm, add Marjorie and that makes two.)
Watson, however, is such a genial actor, he’s able to send out the vibes of the goodest guy ever (who, remember, isn’t so good he’s neutered — he’s still having lots of sex). You’re willing to try liking Adam and Marjorie because Brian likes Adam and Marjorie. You may even stick around for a bit to see if the couple earns it.