Fun fact I learned today: Partners is the only new sitcom that CBS signed on for this television season. And why not? It’s got the terrific pedigree of coming from Will & Grace creators David Kohan and Max Mutchnik, and is actually based on their real-life friendship. Plus, I love every member of the cast: The always delightfully prickly David Krumholtz; Michael Urie and Sophia Bush rebounding from their respective shows’ recent cancellations; and Brandon Routh reminding me that he’s great in everything except Superman. On paper, it’s a can’t-miss opportunity. In execution? Well, it’s not bad.
My feelings for Partners weren’t “meh,” but they never rose above pleasant appreciation. The premise is just complicated enough to yield some promising stories: There are four friends but three couples. See, you have architects Joe (Krumholtz) and Louis (Urie) going into business together, though that professional relationship is often threatened by Louis’ antics. For instance, in the pilot Louis helps Joe propose to his girlfriend Ali (Bush), then accidentally breaks them up by blurting out that Joe wasn’t ready to get married, but then fixes things by “proposing” to Ali himself. And of course, all is not shiny and happy for Louis: He’s been dating Mennonite nurse — or “Jewish doctor,” as he tells his friends — Wyatt (Routh) for six years but obviously has some embarrassment about his boyfriend’s job.
When looking at this show, of course we have to establish all the Will & Grace connections. Though many reviews liken Joe and Louis to The Odd Couple (if one of them were gay), they get equal comparisons to Jack and Will (if one of them were straight). There’s also the sassy Latina, but their secretary Ro-Ro (Tracy Vilar) comes across as more parody than her potential namesake Rosario. The best thing I’ve seen written about Partners – and with which I wholeheartedly agree — comes from The L.A. Times:
It proves, more than “The New Normal” or even “Modern Family,” that being a gay man on TV is no longer a big deal. At least not a big enough deal to serve as the primary story of the show or, unfortunately for CBS, to create any sort of buzz.
I think it’s fantastic that half of the leads are gay, but their sexual orientation is not the automatic explanation for their kooky behavior. Not always, at least—there are a few jokes from the opening flashbacks that are way too stereotypical “this kid will grow up gay.” But Routh, the straight man playing gay as Wyatt, is the most low-key member of the ensemble and grounds everyone else when they get caught up in their petty jealousies. Plus the fact that he’s a recovering alcoholic means we’ll perhaps get some depth later in the season.
Maybe it’s because this airs right after How I Met Your Mother, but I’m really hoping that Partners can recapture some of the early-seasons spark from HIMYM and present a nuanced look at a group of friends. Their interconnected relationships do bring to mind HIMYM‘s bed-hopping and Bro Code; and again, these are four incredibly strong actors. But the writers need to trust their young stars and give them meaty stuff to work with. The pilot’s will-they-or-won’t-they-get-engaged plotline was way ineffectual, because of course Joe and Ali had to get engaged to kick things off.
Even though the “main” relationship is Joe and Louis, all four characters need equal footing in order to play up the somewhat unique premise. Because right now they’re pretty but a little bland. The show is all about Joe and Louis bringing their different perspectives to build exciting, beautiful houses; let’s see the writers similarly put in a stronger emotional foundation and make us care about these new friends on the TV.