'Friends With Better Lives': A first assessment, plus burning questions

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Image Credit: Trae Patton/CBS

Clearly, CBS hopes its newest “group of pals” sitcom may be able to fill the How I Met Your Mother-shaped hole in your heart. Why else would the network premiere Friends With Better Lives at 9 p.m. Monday night — right after HIMYM wraps up its final season, when all its loyal fans are at their most vulnerable?

But if HIMYM was, at heart, a Ted Mosby — kind, good-hearted, a soul-mate sort of show; hold on, I’ve got something in my eye — FWBL is more of an early-period Barney Stinson. By that, I mean it’s crass, boorish, and, at least as of now, not exactly the kind of series you’d want to spend more than a few nights with.

The players: Bored Marrieds Bobby and Andi (Kevin Connolly and Majandra Delfino), a.k.a. a more depressed Lily and Marshall; Tough Career Woman Kate (Zoe Lister-Jones), a.k.a. Mean Robin; Newly (and Unhappily) Single Will (James “The Beek” Van Der Beek), a lovelorn Ted with snarky Barney rising; and Flighty Jules (Brooklyn Decker), a.k.a. … Phoebe? Okay, so the analogy isn’t perfect. Partway through the show, one more protagonist is thrown in just to spice things up: New-Age Hottie Lowell (Rick Donald), Jules’ new boyfriend, whose British diction is as crisply defined as his abs. [Yikes, he's actually Australian. Guess I was distracted by the abs.]

On a sitcom like this — inspired by Friends, created by an alum of Friends, even partially titled Friends — the plot matters less than the characters. Ideally, the series would star a group charming enough to amuse us no matter what they’re doing; the best parts of Happy Endings or Cougar Town or, yes, HIMYM often came when each show’s central gang was simply hanging out, riffing with and ragging on each other. It’s a shame, then, that these new Friends don’t really seem to enjoy one another’s company very much, and that taken individually they’re each fairly sour. All the show’s crass sex jokes have an unpleasant, sort of desperate tinge to them as well.

There may be some potential here; Van Der Beek was great on ABC’s underrated, canceled-too-soon Don’t Trust the B—– in Apt. 23, and any sitcom takes at least a few episodes to really get moving. Given the pilot, though, I’m not totally sure I care enough to stick around while that happens. While watching episode 1, things like this kept eating at me:

1. Why is Andi holding (and, presumably, drinking) a glass of wine while pumping breast milk? Sure, she might be doing a pump and dump — but if that’s the case, why bother pumping now when she’ll just have to do it again in 30 minutes to an hour, when the alcohol content of her milk will be at its peak?

2. Kate owns “the hottest social media company in the country” — yet she didn’t bother Googling or Facebook-stalking her blind date before meeting him? (If she had, she’d immediately have known that a) he doesn’t look like the creepy guy she first approached at the restaurant and b) he’s short.) How does a social media exec not know how to use social media?

3. Also wait, she runs “the hottest social media company in the country” from Los Angeles?

4. In 2014 L.A., Bobby has seriously never heard of the concept of cashew milk?

5. Wait, Andi’s husband is an OB-GYN? Why didn’t he say anything about the wine?!

6. Why would Andi, who isn’t related to Kate, attend Kate’s cousin’s bar mitzvah?

And, you know, other dumb stuff like that. I realize these are all nitpicks — but when a show isn’t quite amusing enough, it’s tough to overlook the little things about it that don’t make sense.

Am I being too harsh on FWBL — or do you agree that HIMYM mourners should keep looking?

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