We Give Traffic Light a Blinking Yellow

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Did you catch the premiere of Fox’s new sitcom Traffic Light last night? Not too many people did, despite heavy promotion throughout Sunday’s Super Bowl. It came in third, pulling in a feeble 1.9 share among adults 18-49. (The episode is streaming here.) Those numbers are not promising for the show, which, based on its bumpy pilot, still deserves a shot at finding an audience.

At first glance, the similarities to another new sitcom—NBC’s Perfect Couples—are glaring. Both shows revolve around three former college buddies who've managed to remain friends and who all find themselves at varying crossroads in their respective relationships. But where Couples, which is overstuffed with rapid-fire dialog and constant bickering, tends to grate on your nerves after a few minutes, Traffic Light takes a quieter and less desperate-to-please approach. Its characters aren’t afraid to take breaths and moments, and in doing so actually manage to actually listen to one another. That makes a big difference.

The show has a likable cast, including two alumni of The OfficeDavid Denman, who played Pam’s jerky and clueless fiancee, and Nelson Franklin, who had a recurring role last season as the Dunder-Mifflin IT guy. Here they play Mike and Adam, respectively: Mike is a former jock, biding time as a lawyer with a kid who hides out from his wife, Lisa (Liza Lapira), by sitting outside in the family SUV and watching Iron Man. Adam has just moved in with his hotter girlfriend, Callie (Aya Cash), and works for a Maxim-type magazine—where we were introduced via clunky setup to Marty, his jerk of a boss (Broadway star Roger Bart, mostly wasted here). That would fulfill the “red” and “yellow” portions of the show’s titular traffic-signals-as-life-stages metaphor; which leaves Ethan (Love, Actually’s caddish Kris Marshall) for “green,” i.e. the commitment-phobe whose only enduring relationship is to his bulldog. There are references to a fourth member of the group, who has died young but whose memory lives on. He’s there, I guess, to give their relationship some added gravitas and history. The story doesn’t need it.

The pilot was uninspired, revolving as it did around Adam promising his boss that a famous clown wrestler would show up to a Bar Mitzvah; Mike ends up dressing in a clown costume and saving the day. Groan. And the whole, repetitive shtick of couples needing to make up lies in order to tolerate one another feels lazy and stale. But if you look past that and take a deep whiff of the glue that binds this series—the chemistry between the three guys, and the women in their lives—you’re likely to smell some potential. It’s just not enough to get high on quite yet.

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