The best part of being a TV critic is celebrating awesome shows, examining contradictory ones, thinking out loud about fascinating characters and trying to come to terms with everything that's confounding and compelling about the medium.
Then there's the "I Watched So You Don't Have To" part of the job, which is one of the most important aspects of the gig, in my opinion. If the time I've spent watching crappy pilots can help just one person, it's all been worth it. Almost.
Welcome to my mini-reviews of "Guys with Kids," "Partners" and "Neighbors," which prove that three different networks can come up with sitcoms that are ferociously awful in very different ways.
I feel obligated to tell you right away that you're best off just avoiding these particularly painful, unfunny comedies, which took perfectly reasonable premises and gave them executions that made me feel like washing my eyes out with bleach. If you want to stop reading there, nobody will judge you. But those with more pronounced masochistic tendencies, feel free to read on! I'll try to make these reviews short and painless. Well, more painless than the shows themselves.
"Guys With Kids," premieres on Wed., Sept. 12 at 10 p.m. ET on NBC: Parenthood is a pretty comical state of affairs (see also: The film and TV versions of "Parenthood," and endless array of sitcoms and movie comedies, real life, etc.). The dignity and autonomy of those with kids is constantly compromised by tiny beings that can't even vote or drive. Where's the humor in that? Oh, I don't know, everywhere? Yet this show fails to find any of it, and rests most of its humor on a very tired and ill-conceived hook: Men taking care of small children is hilarious because it's so unexpected! And that makes me wonder: What rock have the people who created this show been living under? It's neither unusual or necessarily hysterical to see men caring for the their children, yet "Guys With Kids" would have you believe that dudes wearing baby slings is intrinsically guffaw-inducing (and maybe it was ... in the poster for "The Hangover"). The women here are shrewish, the vibe is both manic and tired, and overall, the decent cast (which includes the wonderful Anthony Anderson) is given nothing funny to do. All things considered, if you're going to watch a very broad comedy on NBC, make it the one with the monkey.
"Partners," premieres on Mon., Sept. 24 at 8:30 p.m. ET on CBS: This appears to be the re-animated corpse of a tired, schticky comedy pilot from 1996. I've got my problems with "The New Normal," which also features tiresome stereotypes and predictably "shocking" zingers, but at least that comedy is worth writing about at greater length (look for that review soon). "Partners," on the other hand, is just a tiresome collection of hacky scenes and lines (a Clay Aiken joke in 2012? Really? Here's another actual line: "Joke joke joke, gay gay gay, I will cut you." And that's just in the first two minutes, folks!). Michael Urie's character manages to unite almost every single tired stereotype about gay men, and Brandon Routh, who displays a stunning lack of comic ability, laboriously plays his boyfriend. Everything about their scenes is painful to watch. David Krumholtz is fine, more or less, but he is unable to rescue this grating, unpleasant train wreck from itself. Nobody expects innovative or edgy comedy from CBS, and that's fine; the network has made a ton of money aiming squarely at the mainstream. But CBS programs generally display a level of basic competence that this "comedy" falls woefully short of.
"The Neighbors," premieres on Wed., Sept. 26 at 9:30 p.m. ET on ABC: In the right hands, the idea at the heart of this show -- a normal family moves in to a housing development occupied by human-looking aliens -- could be a lot of fun. Needless to say, this show is not in the right hands (or tentacles, or antennae). It's stiff, lifeless, unfunny and the entire cast fails to register in any meaningful way. Once again, there's so much potential humor here -- the humans are fish out of water among the weirdo aliens, and the aliens themselves don't understand human customs and communication -- but this show fails to abduct nearly all of it. Think of it as "Work It," but instead of men in women's clothing it's got creepy aliens in polo shirts. Hilarity does not ensue.
Honorable Mention: "Malibu Country" (Friday, Nov. 2 at 8:30 p.m. ET on ABC): Yes, it's as creaky and dumb as all my colleagues said when we made our snap judgments about ABC's pilots. But Reba McEntire is such a likable presence and Lily Tomlin is such a legend that I can't bring myself to dislike it as much as the shows above.
Check out the HuffPostTV staff's snap judgments of other pilots here, by network:
NBC | Fox | The CW | CBS
Stay tuned for my "Three Most Promising New Dramas" roundup.
Also, Ryan McGee and I discussed "The New Normal," "Guys With Kids" and "Sons of Anarchy" in this week's Talking TV podcast, which is on iTunes and below.