In 2012, CBS premiered a new show about two odd-couple male pals. It was called Partners, and on the surface, it seemed to have everything going for it—a prime slot following How I Met Your Mother, a great pedigree courtesy of two ’90s sitcom wizards (it was created by Max Mutchnick and David Kohan of Will & Grace fame), two charismatic stars (Michael Urie and David Krumholtz). Even so, Partners failed to gain traction. Critics griped that its old-fashioned jokes were tired rather than appealingly retro; just a few weeks into the 2012-2013 TV season, it became one of the first shows to get the ax.
Clearly, those who don’t pay attention to TV history are doomed to repeat it.
FX’s newest offering, like the CBS series, is a lowest-common-denominator comedy with a laugh track. It was also created by two men whose careers peaked in the ’90s—Robert Horn produced Living Single and the short-lived CBS sitcom High Society; Robert L. Boyett’s last name will be familiar to anyone who grew up watching Miller/Boyett family comedies like Full House, Family Matters, and Step by Step. It, too, stars two veteran actors, albeit ones significantly more seasoned than Urie and Krumholtz: five-time Emmy Award winner Kelsey Grammer and ex-Martin star (and onetime Big Momma) Martin Lawrence. Like that other show, Partners is also called, uh, Partners.
Most importantly: Both are stereotype-laden throwbacks to a simpler time when multi-cam sitcoms ruled and no joke was too broad. And both are, well, not that good.
There’s definite allure to the idea of watching two comedic giants return to the format that made them famous—the same sort of appeal that drove The Crazy Ones and The Michael J. Fox Show earlier this season. But it’s not enough to make a show work (as both Robin Williams and Fox will tell you)—especially when its stars are clearly just going through the motions, as both Grammer (giving Frasier Crane’s above-it-all attitude but none of his heart) and Lawrence (mumbly and low-energy) appear to be.
Their sleepy performances, though, are hardly Partners: The Next Part’s biggest issue. Nope—that’d be the show’s weak one-liners and cringe-worthy innuendo. Seriously, the scripts for the show’s first two episodes (which aired back to back on FX tonight) sound like screenplays Horn and Boyett have been holding onto since the Clinton administration—and like cigar jokes or Limited Too bell bottoms, they haven’t aged well. A sampling of the premiere’s biggest groaners:
Martin Lawrence’s Sassy Mother, who looks about 10 years older than he is (actress Telma Hopkins is just 16 years Martin Lawrence’s elder): “Can I just say one thing?”
Martin Lawrence: “History has proven otherwise.”
Martin Lawrence’s Gay Assistant: “Clearly I’m not an expert on relationships with women. One time a girl asked me to take off her blouse; my response was ‘Okay, fine. It doesn’t fit me anyway.’”
Martin Lawrence’s Daughter, who has just learned that her mother was cheating on her father: “How could she do this with a priest?”
Martin Lawrence: “I’m guessing missionary.”
Martin Lawrence: “The entire time, she’s sleeping with Father Francis, giving him a second coming!”
Kelsey Grammer, who is a lawyer: “I am confident the court will approve… but you be the judge.”
A Judge: “I AM the judge, you fool!”
Kelsey Grammer, thinking that a gay couple who want to take legal action against their wedding planner are overreacting: “With all due respect, I think you’re making a Brokeback Mountain out of a molehill.”
Martin Lawrence’s Promiscuous Lady Assistant, because he needs two for some reason: “I have the ability to coerce any man, regardless of his sexuality. Just last week, I ate a hot dog at a food court and four gay men gave me a standing ovation.”
Martin Lawrence’s Sassy Mother: “You know, I’ve always fancied the idea of having two men… one to cook, and one to clean!”
And so on. It’s like Two and a Half Men crossed with Full House, only without the catchy theme songs. The whole thing is even more mind-boggling when compared to FX’s other programming, especially the network’s sharp, edgy comedies (Louie, You’re the Worst, Married). Then again, this is the channel that brought us Anger Management, A.K.A. Hashtag Winning, which may help to explain how Partners got greenlit in the first place.
Maybe some will look at Partners as soothing comfort food; maybe others will appreciate it on an anthropological level. But unless you’re a TV historian (or a viewer with low standards), there’s not much there here. I am, however, curious to see what happens when some poor soul who wrote for TV in the ’90s tries to launch a new bromantic comedy called Partners in 2016. Psst, whoever you are: Dave Coulier and David Spade are available!