March 31, 2014

THE SKED Pilot Review: “Friends With Better Lives”


FRIENDS WITH BETTER LIVES – Monday 8:30PM on CBS (Preview Tonight at 9PM) – If Nothing Else Is On…

FRIENDS WITH BETTER LIVES is a CBS comedy of the post-2 Broke Girls era, which is to say that while a thoroughly conventional multi-camera sitcom in many ways (it’s even directed by the dean of the genre, James Burrows), the pilot’s biggest set-piece concerns a public (if quickly interrupted) blow job, and the many jokes about it that follow.  The mix of stepped-up prurience with traditional TV comedy tropes–the act in question is between a married couple, and on their anniversary, no less, in the darkened room at what the wife didn’t know was her surprise anniversary party–worked for the network with Broke Girls, and certainly Better Lives makes a better fit in the world of CBS comedy than the dismal We Are Men or The Millers.

Oral sex aside, the key word of this comedy’s title is the Friends part.  Written by Dana Klein, who was a writer/producer on the last true TV super-comedy (in its final season, when it was already past its peak, Friends’ weekly rating was 50% higher than last year’s numbers for The Big Bang Theory), and with Burrows as director, Better Lives is very much going after the fizz of Friends.  Like just about all the imitators that have followed, it doesn’t get there–nor does it have any kind of interesting spin of its own.  The characters are a bit older than the Friends when we first met them, and at schematically assorted places on the romantic spectrum:  Bobby (Kevin Connelly) and Andi (Majandra Delfino) are that married couple, with 2 kids and worries that their lives are in a rut; gorgeous Jules (Brooklyn Decker) is newly engaged to Australian spiritual health-food restaurant owner Lowell (Rick Donald); Will (James Van Der Beek), Bobby’s partner in their OB-GYN practice, is about to get divorced; and brittle Kate (Zoe Lister Jones) is successful in business, but the group’s only singleton.

Everyone is dumber than they need to be:  when Bobby dismisses Will’s idea that his soon-to-be ex-wife may have just “accidentally” had sex with their couples counselor, Andi muses that she once accidentally sat on a carrot–and she doesn’t mean it as mockery–while Lowell is every new age-y “Namaste” vegan cliche come to life (it was a huge disappointment when it became clear that his character wasn’t just a guest role).  The casting is similarly one-dimensional.  Lister Jones still seems to be in character from Whitney, and after being shocked by how funny Decker could be as an out-and-out bitch on The League, it’s too bad to see her reduced to the pretty ingenue again.  Although all the performances are fine, there’s no sense of any memorable chemistry bubbling among the group.

CBS is giving Friends With Better Lives a marquee by using its premiere as the lead-out from the series finale of How I Met Your Mother, so there’s no question that it will get an audience for its pilot.  As shows that premiered after the Super Bowl and Olympics have found, though, it gets a lot harder after that, when Better Lives will air after 2 Broke Girls (itself likely to be damaged by the loss of Mother).  While there’s nothing exciting about Friends With Better Lives, that isn’t to say that it can’t contribute to the network’s bottom line.  It’s mildly likable, and CBS has aired worse–this season alone.  Perhaps with time it could even improve.  The smart move would be to keep expectations low and accept it for the moderate craft it offers.


About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."