Sept. 28--ABC's "Betrayal" and CBS' "We Are Men" have little in common, except they are both unrelentingly -- and unredeemably -- below average.
"Men" is a dumb-and-dumber-times-four version of the lamentably canceled TNT drama "Men of a Certain Age." It's supposed to be funnier, though. At least I think it is because it's only a half-hour show and it's part of the CBS wall of comedy on Monday nights. There aren't any actual jokes to signal that it's a sitcom, but let's just say for the sake of brief discussion that it is a sitcom.
Four guys with histories of bad luck with women move into the same apartment complex in Tarzana. Tony Shalhoub ("Monk") is Frank Russo, oft married to younger women and just as oft divorced; Jerry O'Connell ("Sliders") is a serial womanizer who favors Speedos as his default attire; Kal Penn ("Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle") was dumped by his wife after she caught him cheating; and Chris Smith ("30 Rock") is single, has only been with one woman in his life, but was left at the altar in a scene referencing the famous finale of "The Graduate." Although he really just wants to get back with his ex-fiancee, his new male friends think she's no good for him and that he should take advantage of being single to play the field.
And by "play," they mean "plow."
It's hard to know what audience the show is targeting. Men won't like it unless they have a masochistic need to identify with men as horny morons. And women will like it only if they like their men stupid and emasculated.
No one is really terribly good in it -- not because they lack the acting chops, but because the characters are shallow, obvious and uninteresting. Smith is agreeable as a kind of James Franco goofball. Clearly he's going to fall in love with Russo's single daughter, Abby (Rebecca Breeds, "Home and Away"), because Shalhoub's character takes every chance he gets to warn his fellow horndogs to leave her alone.
It's not the worst new sitcom of the year -- that would be "Dads" -- but there's nothing terribly memorable about it other than the appeal of the cast members. And that was earned from previous films and shows.
"Betrayal," an even lesser show, is an implausible soap opera meant to snuggle in to ABC's Sunday night lineup after the slightly more plausible sudser "Revenge." Pairing the two shows makes some kind of programming sense, until you ask yourself how much mediocrity viewers can stomach in a single evening.
"Betrayal" is based on a Dutch series called "Overspel" because everything on TV has to be based on something Northern European these days. It's like the entire industry has gone Danish modern all of a sudden, and very beige.
The show's setup is that two people, married to other people, meet at an art gallery, make small talk -- really, really small talk -- and take a long time before tumbling into bed because the show is an hour long.
The woman is a photographer named Sara Hadley (Hannah Ware, "Boss"), who is married to a politically ambitious district attorney Drew Hayward (Chris Johnson, "The Vampire Diaries"). The man is Jack McAllister (Stuart Townsend, "Queen of the Damned"), who is a lawyer working for the rich and powerful Thatcher Karsten (James Cromwell, "American Horror Story") and is married to Thatcher's daughter. In fact, Jack is a surrogate son to Karsten, whose own son, TJ (Henry Thomas, "Gangs of New York") was saved by Jack after some kind of accident that left him a little off.
Someone gets murdered and Jack will have to defend TJ. How much do you want to wager on who will prosecute the case?
The acting is terrible throughout, but it's hard to blame the cast, including newly minted Emmy winner Cromwell, for having to utter some of this dialogue.
Here's TJ describing his father, for example:
"He was sad ... and like mad at the same time. It's like there was something on fire inside him."
OK, maybe that's not fair because there are a few loose floorboards in TJ's attic. But what's the excuse for Sara and Jack as they spend 40 minutes meandering toward the bed?
Jack: "You make me want to connect. Seeing you, I get this feeling, this spark ...."
Sara: "... you've never felt before."
They don't hook up at first because Sara's husband calls from home because he can't find the dancing giraffe book to read to the kids. After the call, Sara recites the dancing giraffe story to Jack.
Talk about killing the mood.
But the best exchange comes just before Jack and Sara finally get down to business when he shows up at her studio to tell her they shouldn't pursue a relationship.
Jack: "My life, it's so small -- sometimes everything in it. But with you ... with you, it started to feel, I don't know the word, magnitude. I started to feel the magnitude of things the way I never did. I started to feel the way I could imagine my life, the way it is ...."
Sara: "The way you dream it."
Jack: "This can't happen."
Sara. "No, it can't."
Can we go back to the dancing giraffe now? It has, I don't know the word, altitude.
David Wiegand is The San Francisco Chronicle's executive features editor and TV critic. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org Twitter: @WaitWhat_TV
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