August 5, 2014

THE SKED Series Premiere Review: “Partners”


PARTNERS:  Monday 9PM on FX – Change the Channel

Anyone who’s seen the promos on FX over the past several weeks has known what was coming:  PARTNERS is a sitcom with the charm of an IRS audit.  It’s really less a TV show than an illustrated business deal, the latest in the assembly line comedy sweatshop template called the “10/90,” which for some reason FX–otherwise a model of creative ambition–has become enamored of.  The idea is that a studio (Debmar-Mercury, a division of Lionsgate) produces 10 episodes of a sitcom, and the network that agrees to air them is obligated to order 90 additional half-hours if the first batch hits a pre-established ratings mark.  It’s supposed to be a win-win, because with such a huge order, the episodes can be churned out like game shows, at a bargain price for the network and with a rating already deemed acceptable, while guaranteeing the studio enough episodes for syndication and allowing distribution to proceed immediately.  In practice, the result for FX has been Anger Management, which started out with high ratings but is now at a sub-par 0.3-0.4 level (FX is allowed a ton of runs, which is why the show is used to plug up holes all over its schedule), and the George Lopez show that didn’t make it past the initial 10 half-hours.

A particular category of aging star looking for a big paycheck and unconcerned with quality gravitates to these projects, in other words Charlie Sheen, Lopez, and now Martin Lawrence and–painfully–Kelsey Grammer (who’s so committed to the scheme that he even directed the first episode of Partners himself).  Grammer and Lawrence play down-on-their-luck Chicago attorneys who end up, you guessed it, partnering.  Grammer is Allen Braddock, an attorney of dubious ethics who’s recently been fired by his father’s firm, and Lawrence is Marcus Jackson, who’s supposed to be an idealist (although he comes off as cynically as Grammer’s character) forced to join forces with Braddock after a divorce bankrupts him.  They share a gay assistant, Michael (Rory O’Malley), and a wacky investigator, Veronica (Edi Patterson), plus each lead has an appendage or two:  a spoiled but (in theory) likable stepdaughter for Braddock, Lizzie (McKaley Miller), and an old-school mother and daughter for Jackson (Telma Hopkins as Ruth and Daniele Watts as Laura), who live with him.

Partners has been created by Robert L. Boyett and Robert Horn, who between them have been making multicamera sitcoms for over 50 years, and every one of those years is evident in the labored set-ups and creaky punchlines of the two initial episodes.  (FX will air the 10 half-hours of the opening order back-to-back over 5 weeks.)  The first recounted the contrivances by which Braddock and Jackson became a reluctant team, and the second had the two pretending to be a gay couple in order to trap a wedding planner cheating her male clients.  This latter piece, written by Horn alone and directed by Joe Regalbuto (another one-time network sitcom lead on shows like Just Shoot Me), was particularly dreadful, not just because it returned viewers to a pre-Will & Grace world of gay stereotypes, but because it compelled Grammer into a Frasier Crane-like finickiness, and that made one wonder once again why, other than outright greed, an icon of TV comedy, whose residual and back-end checks must still be formidable, would want to besmirch his reputation with a piece of machine-made cardboard like this.  (Grammer seemed to rub it in by agreeing to have the show set in Chicago, where he excellently played the Mayor on the grim but high-quality Boss.)

The 10/90 comedies are designed to appeal to viewers who aren’t just chronologically older, but who long for the days of set-up/punchline/canned laughter sitcoms, and the combination of Grammer and Lawrence has the potential to bring in a wider than usual chunk of that group.  Certainly the stars are professionals who know their ways around the mechanics of a TV joke, even if the substance is gone.  It’s all a bit like watching one of those Old Timers Day baseball games where long-retired stars come out to play an inning or two, so everyone can marvel that they can still hit the ball and make their way to a base–but no one would want to see them play in a game that counted.  The only time anyone involved with Partners gets excited about anything they’re doing is when they check their bank accounts and make sure that the latest wire transfers have gone through.


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."