Sept. 30--My mother taught me to begin any criticism with a compliment, so here it is: CBS' new comedy "We Are Men" lasts only half an hour and stars four likable performers, including Tony Shalhoub and Kal Penn.
Now for the criticism. "We Are Men" lasts an entire half-hour and stars four likable performers, including Tony Shalhoub and Kal Penn.
Television prides itself on allowing the writer to be king, and that is never more clear than when a show is far better cast than it is conceived. Shalhoub in particular is an actor who can sell just about anything.
A dippy Italian cabbie guest spot in "Wings"? You're now a regular character. A super sleuth with a laundry list of neuroses in "Monk"? Television will change entirely to celebrate you. The bad guy in "Spy Kids," the Arab cop in "The Siege," heck, Shalhoub even did decent work in "Thir13en Ghosts," a feat that borders on the miraculous.
So when he appears in "We Are Men," even as the lecherous, multiple-divorced older dude anchoring the show's quartet of guys who are rediscovering the pleasure of the single life, you think, for a second, things might be OK.
But they're not. They're not OK. As Frank Russo, Shalhoub is forced to ogle young women, say predictable things about marriage (apparently some men find it confining) and make Asian-girl jokes. (Seriously, enough with the Asian-girl jokes this fall. Enough.)
Oh, he gives it his best, managing to make his lines seem slightly less offensive than similar things being said over on "Dads," but in the end, that only makes it worse. Shows like this shouldn't happen to actors like him.
"We Are Men," which was created by Rob Greenberg, opens with a wedding, which is never a good sign; there is something about tulle that does not mix well for plot. Like (the much better though recently canceled) "Happy Endings," "We Are Men" kicks off with a guy dumped at the altar.
Carter (Chris Smith), callow and unemployed but apparently doing OK financially, moves into an Oakwood-type full-service apartment complex of the sort people in transition favor. There he meets Frank and Stuart (Jerry O'Connell), multiple-divorce survivors who have given up the fight, and Gil (Penn), a philanderer who would actually like his marriage back. Though they all ostensibly have jobs -- Frank's a "successful clothing manufacturer," Stuart an OB/GYN and Gil "a small businessman" -- they seem to spend most of their time lounging poolside, discussing the many failings of marriage and women in general.
Women, it appears, make men do all sorts of things they don't want to do. Like go to farmers markets and dinner parties. Women are controlling, grasping and manipulative. They're fun to have sex with, sure, but at the end of the day, a man needs his bros to feel whole.
When Carter and Gil feebly protest this conclusion, they are made to sound, and look, like idiots.
It's difficult to imagine a woman alive whose feelings would be hurt, or sensibilities offended, by "We Are Men." If guys like these would actually go live in a gated apartment complex separate from the rest of the community, venturing out only for the occasional one-night stand and/or bucket of wings, the world would be a much better place. Certainly, everyone could stop getting breast implants.
Men, on the other hand, might be a little stung, a tiny bit outraged. They might begin to feel that comedy has turned against them. Certainly, this fall has trotted out a more motley crew of absurdly flawed and ridiculously inept guys than we've seen in a while.
Men may be starting to reconsider the whole man-cave mentality, with its troubling emphasis on the cave (heroic deeds are rarely done in caves, neither was Plato fond of them). Men might think that a show so confident of embodying the masculine ethos that it calls itself "We Are Men" should be better than this.
Or, you know, they might just love it.
'We Are Men'
When: 8:30 p.m. Monday
Rating: TV-PG-DL (may be unsuitable for young children with advisories for suggestive dialogue and coarse language)
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