TV critics tend not to like CBS comedies – even the ones not created by Chuck Lorre – when they first come on the scene, and only occasionally after they become ratings hits (see The Big Bang Theory), so it wasn’t entirely surprising when they lit into Friends With Better Lives during its Q&A at Winter TV Press Tour 2014.
“In the pilot everybody seems pretty miserable,” one critic noted of the multi-cam ensemble comedy from Dana Klein, about a group of 30-something friends who each think the other has it better, that’s getting the plum post-How I Met Your Mother Finale premiere slot in March.
“Is this going to get somewhat friendlier — everyone seems very unhappy,” the critic reiterated. Klein explained there is no “right” better life – that working women envy stay-at-home moms and vice versa, and how, in the show, one week the better life might seem to be that of the single woman who dates, but the next week it might be the couple with kids. It was the press tour equivalent of tossing breadcrumbs to piranha.
“We do have an edgier tone,” Klein responded, mastering understatement.
“Is this necessary on a CBS pilot?” the critic continued to probe, as the room mulled CBS comedy pilots past.
Klein assured them the show would not be a running litany of sex jokes every week, that they would never do a sex joke just for the sake of a sex joke, while the critics wished they had a buck for every time they’d heard that gag from a writer at a press tour. Klein said she wanted to do a show that’s “relatable,” that if a writer came in with a story about a funny sex incident “We will run towards it”, and explained patiently to the critics, as if they were much loved children who’d been dropped on their heads as infants, that “sex is a real part of adult life.”
Interestingly, though the cast and writer/producers upon stage demonstrated in the pilot they could deliver ball and dick jokes like nobody’s business, they seemed strangely uncomfortable when the critic asked if a pilot scene, in which a husband and wife try to get the “surprise” back in their relationship – he by throwing her a surprise party, she by giving him a blow job at the party – was a funny sex incident someone working on the show had actually experienced.
“We can’t tell you that,” star James Van Der Beek said. “It did not happen to me” he added.
“We go to real stories and exaggerated a little for comedy,” Klein acknowledged.
“How invisible will the kids be,” asked another critic. “It’s definitely an adult show, so you don’t see a ton of the kids,” someone responded from on stage. “Enough episodes to know he’s alive,” said another.
From the surging sea of unhappy critics came another voice – of one dubious as to whether the sitcom should show a new mother breast pumping while drinking an adult beverage. “I drink while breast feeding,” responded Van Der Beek, who seemed to be taking all the tough questions. Here’s where the male TV critics learned that “pump and dump” isn’t just a phrase used in reference to the practice of inflating a stock price through false and misleading positive statements in order to sell the cheaply purchased stock at a higher price.