Butler County Times Gazette
  • Stay Tuned: ‘Friends with Better Lives’ could be better

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  • The singer Morrissey has a song titled “We Hate it When Our Friends Become Successful.” It’s a funny line and, let’s admit it, a little bit true. Jealousy is often part of friendship even when you wish nothing but good things for your best buddy. It’s natural to think that your friends have something in their lives that is better than what you have. CBS’s new situation comedy “Friends with Better Lives” plays on this idea by focusing on a group of friends who look at one another’s lives and secretly feel less satisfied with their own. It’s a grass-is-always-greener scenario with a familiar “Friends” aesthetic. But unlike “Friends,” not all the players are equally talented.
    The set-up is that everyone in the group represents a different life stage. Bobby (Kevin Connolly) and Andi (Majandra Delfino) are married with a toddler, and a baby on the way. Will (James Van Der Beek) is recently divorced. Kate (Zoe Lister-Jones) is single. Always-in-love Jules (Brooklyn Decker) is newly engaged to Lowell (Rick Donald), a man she barely knows. As you would expect, their insecurities are the basis for the show’s comedy. Their issues are also so familiar that you should be able to guess what they are just by reading my description of the characters. Bobby and Andi wonder if married life has dulled them. Will is afraid to start life over. Kate fears she’ll never find the one. Jules worries that her speedy engagement to Lowell may be the wrong decision.
    The unsurprising characterizations are disappointing, but the stronger members of the cast are able to pull off some funny moments. Van Der Beek, though better on his previous series “Don’t Trust the B**** in Apartment 23,” still shines as a doctor nursing a broken heart. He’s very comfortable on screen, and it shows. No matter how funny or unfunny his line might be, he looks like he’s having a good time, so you have a good time watching him. Zoe Lister-Jones will be familiar to fans of “Whitney.” She plays Kate with the same deadpan style she used on that show. It’s a delivery you either like or you don’t. I like it a lot, so for me, her time on screen gives the series some of its strongest moments. Delfino and Connolly look good together and are likeable, but their rhythm isn’t always smooth. They are often better when they have the punchline to themselves. Jules is the wide-eyed romantic who thinks with her heart before her head. A lot of actors could give the character the depth that she needs, but Decker isn’t quite up to the challenge. I don’t think there’s much Donald can do with a two-dimensional character like Lowell, so it’s hard to blame him for a less-than-exciting performance.
    Page 2 of 2 - The idea behind “Friends with Better Lives” is promising, but its approach is too safe. The second episode already feels like any other sitcom. If it’s not afraid to abandon the familiar characterizations and dig deeper into the funny side of envy, it might just get better.
    “Friends with Better Lives” is on Mondays at 8:30 p.m. EDT on CBS.
    Melissa Crawley is the author of “Mr. Sorkin Goes to Washington: Shaping the President on Television’s ‘The West Wing.’” She has a PhD in media studies and is a member of the Television Critics Association. To comment on Stay Tuned, email her at staytuned@outlook.com or follow her on Twitter at @MelissaCrawley.

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