Where does one even begin to evaluate a three-camera sitcom these days? The mere presence of a laugh track in 2012 is basically the producers declaring, "This is not art. Don't think about it. We'll tell you when to laugh." Sure, there have been some high quality—even important—three-camera sitcoms throughout TV history, but man has it been a while since the last one. Was it Seinfeld, a show that eschewed common farcical plotlines for something more esoteric? Or was it Will & Grace, the sitcom brave enough to have a gay man as its titular lead? But let's be honest, the modern sitcom vanguard features no laugh tracks. Larry David no longer needs one and neither do we.
Partners, though, comes from Max Mutchnick and David Kohan, the brains behind Will & Grace. That series was a much-loved, smart, and often very funny show about a gay man, his best lady pal, and their much funnier friends. So does Partners' pedigree somehow vault it above the grim, populist, ad-selling bonanzas that are Chuck Lorre's current slate of hits? Nope! Partners is very terrible! But the conundrum is that it's also very similar to Will & Grace in tone, energy, and sense of humor. So why was one a classic but the other an embarrassment? As it turns out, we the viewers have grown a lot since Jack McFarland last flitted across our TV screens. What was once risky and forward-thinking is now regressive horse-sh*t. That's Partners.
So right now we can only evaluate Partners based on its pilot (frequently a series' weakest episode), but here's what we have to go on: Two grown men—allegedly successful architects—have known each other since childhood and have presumably been exchanging barbs about their Jewishness and/or gayness every day since. As played by David Krumholtz (as Joe the straight) and Michael Urie (as Louis the gay), the men have a codependent relationship that the show would have us believe is paramount to all others, except that in the pilot a simple misunderstanding caused them to have a COMPLETE FALLING OUT. Like, friendship-ending, business-dissolving falling out. It all began when Joe told Louis (in between terrible, terrible gay jokes) that he intended to break up with his girlfriend Ali (a likable Sophia Bush) because he didn't feel like getting married just yet. But then, once Joe got Ali alone, he decided to propose instead. Despite the fact that Joe and Louis are VERY close (that's the premise of this whole show!), Joe didn't mention to Louis his sudden change in plans (or change in LIFE) at all. So the next morning Louis attended yoga class with Ali assuming that she'd been dumped and accidentally revealed that Joe was originally going to dump her and she did NOT take it well. You know? Louis was simply operating off of the information he was given. A simple misunderstanding that could have been explained in one well-worded sentence. But because this is a terrible sitcom instead of real life, Joe became livid at Louis for ruining everything (and Louis bizarrely agreed that HE was in the wrong, and not, somehow, the monstrous so-called friend whose fault this was in the first place). Anyway, Louis proceeded to use his sassy gay charm to get Ali and Joe back together, save the partnership, and save the friendship. And then everyone enjoyed a nice cup of espresso together at the local coffee shop. Cue laugh track, cue applause.
Just seeing that series of events spelled out on my computer screen makes them seem more reasonable than they came across during the actual show. What's missing, of course, is the overwhelmingly unfunny "I'm a gay!" "I'm a Jew!" type jokes that these characters all speak in. You know how when you get together with a childhood best friend (someone whose very soul you've become intimate with) and you only talk about the most surface-level things about each other? No? Probably because that's not how human beings behave. Obviously sitcoms offer a heightened reality, but good ones do so in the service of revealing human truths. There are no human beings here, there are only idiotic, shallow ciphers who toss off punchlines that seem clever until you think about them for even a second. Like, the slightly racist Latina caricature secretary seems to hate Louis enough that she'd shut him down with "Joke joke joke, gay gay gay, I will cut you," but then in her next scene kindly offer to let him nestle his face in her cleavage? I don't know WHAT was going on there except that it wasn't funny. So what was the point?
Aside from the inherent likability of Sophia Bush, probably the only other thing I liked about Partners was Louis's dummy-hunk boyfriend Wyatt (Superman Returns' Brandon Routh), whose obliviousness toward basic reality (and especially Louis's overt hatefulness) suggest that he might have mental problems. Though Routh refreshingly plays Wyatt without a stereotypical gay affect, the writers do him no favors by turning him into a stone-cold idiot. A repeated joke in which Wyatt made reference to a heart-shaped pin he was wearing ("I have a heart-on") never made sense in context, and it definitely didn't make sense that he couldn't hear himself saying "hard-on." I don't know. I'm not a comedy doctor, but this joke and others like it just didn't work. Speaking of doctors, Louis's insistence that he was embarrassed that Wyatt was a nurse instead of a doctor was so loathsome as to make me despise Louis. In what world is the repeated job-shaming of a significant other not a dump-able offense?
Another thing: These characters are YOUNG. They are maybe 30. So why do they all speak and behave like wealthy 50-year-olds who grew up in the Catskills? Partners repeatedly betrays a huge disconnect between the type and class of person writing the show (wealthy Los Angeles TV producers—Mutchnick and Kohan based this on their own lives) and the supposedly young, normal people it claims to portray. What young gay man has ever enjoyed Clay Aiken, let alone gotten a tattoo of Clay Aiken on his ass like Louis supposedly did? (Clay Aiken has an older FEMALE fan base, you out-of-touch, aging homosexual millionaires!) And what kind of person in 2012 would be in a relationship with Brandon Routh yet feel the need to lie to others that he is both a doctor and Jewish? Nobody. Not only is this show not an accurate portrait of young people gay or otherwise, it's not even an accurate portrayal of human beings.
In conclusion, I get it. Partners is a sitcom and it's not meant to be analyzed for deeper meaning. Still, I hate this thing, get out of here, Partners!
What did YOU think of Partners' pilot? Will you be tuning in again?