Runaway Trend: The Relationship-y Sitcom

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Do you like shows about relationships? Do you like Julia Roberts movies? Do you think men are from Mars and women are from Venus? If you answered yes to any or all of the above, then you're going to love 2011, or the year the romantic-comedy sitcom came back with a vengeance.

NBC, Fox, ABC, and CBS will all be debuting rom-coms (and the requisite rom-com stereotypes) next year, adding half-a-dozen sitcoms dealing with love, relationships, and vibrator jealousy to the primetime schedule. It's unclear what started this trend, but relationship-y shows are often budget conscious, employing up-and-coming actors, multi-camera formats, and a low number of sets.

But the real question is, will any of them be any good? To guide you in your midseason sitcom selection, we decided to examine the new slate of shows and explain how they differ from one another. And from the looks of things, the differences are few...

Perfect Couples

Airs: January on NBC
Rom-Com Stereotypes: Six friends, three couples in various states of relationship bliss, the "normal" couple vs. the fighting couple vs. the too-cutesy couple
Notable Stars: Olivia Munn, Kyle Bornheimer, Mary Elizabeth Ellis (It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia)
How it Differs: Perfect Couples appears to be the most generic of the six new shows, playing it safe with six friends that make up three couples. There's one couple who we're supposed to relate to, one couple who's supposed to remind us of our "passionate" friends who fight and then have toe-curling make-up sex, and one couple that consists of a whipped dude and a hot, lovey-dovey girlfriend. This is about as straightforward as it gets.
Tolerability Index: Low. The Cliche-ometer needle is bouncing wildly at maximum levels. Abandon ship! Abandon ship!

Traffic Light

Airs: February on Fox
Notable Stars: Roy from The Office
Rom-Com Stereotypes: Three various states of relationship bliss, The Bachelor vs. The Husband vs. The Boyfriend
How it Differs: Formerly called Mixed Signals, which was a much better name, Traffic Light (seriously? Traffic Light?) is a relationship sitcom told from the male point of view. For some reason, network execs are trying to create a Sex and the City for men. Newsflash: Men don't like relationship shows unless they involve '70s jazz music, a pizza man, and a lonely housewife who doesn't have enough money for a tip. This show will set the men's movement back three decades.
Tolerability Index: Extremely low. This is what happens when men are the focus of a romantic comedy. Fox simply does not understand.

Happy Endings

Airs: April on ABC
Notable Stars: Elisha Cuthbert
Rom-Com Stereotypes: Six friends, three various states of relationship bliss, one ridiculously desperate friend.
How it Differs: With yet another title that follows the Adjective-Plural Noun naming convention, Happy Endings is gives us the ol' six-friend/three-couple scenario with one twist: The main couple just broke up! The rest of it is pretty much the same.
Tolerability Index: Medium. I grudgingly admit that this one looks the most watchable, because at least the two halves of the broken-up couple are trying to make each other miserable. But it's just a matter of time until they get back together and then break up again and then repeat.

Love Bites

Airs: Midseason on NBC
Notable Stars: Jordana Spiro, Becki Newton, Lindsay Price
Rom-Com Stereotypes: The Slutty Sister vs. The Goody Two-Shoes Sister, man vs. vibrator, multiple relationships in various states of bliss.
How it Differs: Love Bites started as an anthology-style show about love and dating, with different tales about the trials of finding that special someone. The original premise involved two sisters, one of which is hot in the dating scene (Jordana Spiro) and one of which is a virgin (Becki Newton). But Spiro left the show due to her contract with My Boys, and Newton got pregnant. The showrunner also left. So who knows what this will end up being, other than a giant mess. And if you want to get technical, it's supposed to be an hour long—twice as long as the others on this list.
Tolerability Index: Too hard to tell. Great cast, but the show looks about as original as a Rolex knockoff. Factor in all kinds of development problems and a nebulous concept, and we have no idea what the finished product will look like.

Mad Love

Airs: Midseason on CBS
Notable Stars: Judy Greer, Tyler Labine, Sarah Chalke, Jason Biggs
Rom-Com Stereotypes: Lookin' for love in New York!
How it Differs: Four twenty-somethings (what? Not six?!) are trying to find that special someone in the Big Apple. When two of the quartet meet and start dating, their other friends aren't so sure about the relationship. It's Friends minus Joey and Phoebe—you know, the funny ones.
Tolerability Index: Medium-high. A good cast gives us hope. And the fact that there's no horrible preview (unlike for the other shows) gives us even more hope. But it sounds like How I Met Your Mother Lite.

[Preview unavailable.]

Better With You

Airs: Wednesdays at 8:30pm on ABC
Notable Stars: Joanna Garcia, Kurt Fuller
Rom-Com Stereotypes: Six friends*, three couples in various states of relationship bliss.
How it Differs: This one is already on TV, and centers on three couples who are in different stages of their relationships. Twist alert! One of the couples is the parents of the women in the other two couples.
Tolerability Index: Medium-Low. Hey, it could be worse. Right?

What do you think of this trend? Does it give you butterflies in your stomach, or does it make you want to throw up? Do any of the shows look that different than the rest?

Follow writer Tim Surette on Twitter: @TimAtTVDotCom

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