TV review: Perfect Couples; Happy Endings

Friends was a joy. Sad, then, that E4 has replaced it with two formulaic comedies


If you’ve ever wanted to witness a terrifying race to the bottom, in which wit, charm and belly laughs are supplanted by something distinctly sulphurous, allow me to introduce you to E4’s new Thursday night sitcoms. The channel stopped showing repeats of Friends on Sunday, and the rush to replace it brought forth two formulaic shows, each featuring three young men and three young women wisecracking in a fashion that made that previous Friends rip-off, How I Met Your Mother, look positively Wildean.

The joy of watching Friends was that for all the ridiculous scenarios – Phoebe believing her mother had been reincarnated as a cat, say – there was something essentially believable about the characters. Also, likable. They could easily have fallen into sexist stereotypes, with Joey as a boorish bloke, and Rachel as a hot airhead, but they never quite did. All had spirit and charm, and the women were just as friendly with the men as they were with each other. The two sexes weren’t presented as entirely different species.

The first episode of Perfect Couples featured a trying conundrum: how could Dave convince wife Julia she needed to dress much more sexily for him at home? As he explained to his two best friends: “The world’s getting the 10, I’m getting the 6.5.” Dave’s friend and fellow estate agent Vance agreed this situation must be rectified; his girlfriend Amy always wore sexy underwear, he boasted, and she soon arrived to confirm this, snapping her bra strap agreeably. Cue meaningful look between Vance and Dave.

So Dave confronted Julia. At this stage in my notes, before her name became clear, I was describing Julia at embarrassing length as, “the-only-character-with-gumption”. But she was soon brought low. She told her friends about the argument she’d had, and both wrinkled their noses. “This is about your marriage,” opined Amy. “You could stand to try a little harder.”

“What about feminism?” said Julia. “What did our weird aunts die for?”

“Let’s not get hung up on principles,” Amy replied. “This is about maintaining a standard for the couple. Men will always do the bare minimum, unless we shame them into more.”

A few scenes later came a montage: Julia parading for Dave in dress after sexy dress. The woman had submitted, the relationship was restored, and there was the exciting prospect of exploring Vance’s fear of commitment in episode two.

All the actors in Perfect Couples looked vaguely familiar: one resembled Matt Dillon’s less-attractive younger brother, Kevin; another Alec Baldwin’s less-coherent younger brother, Stephen. And it was a similar story on Happy Endings, where the lead seemed to be Ryan Reynolds as played by a potato. There were also three very pretty, very boring young Hollywood fembots, and the man who played the token gay, strangely boorish friend … well, he rang a bell, but I just couldn’t place him.

So I looked him up. There he was on the Internet Movie Database, his last TV role being “Young Hollywood Douchebag” in Californication, his next role “Douchey guy” in the spoof show NTSF: SD: SUV. It seems safe to say this actor has found his niche. Which makes his casting here as a character who is Beavis meets Butthead meets every obnoxious guy who has ever appeared in a Judd Apatow movie completely understandable. The script didn’t help. “Even I think rollerblades are gay,” ran one of his lines, “and I had sex with a dude last night.” Buh-boom-boom.

I could describe the plot of Happy Endings, but why bother? Suffice to say hot girl leaves hot guy at the altar in the first few minutes, thus dangling the delicious possibility that she is going to escape her group of dull, diet-obsessed friends and live a life of Dionysian glee on some beautiful atoll with a man or woman who bears absolutely no resemblance to a minor film star, or indeed their younger brother. But within minutes, she was back. The plot moved to a birthday party in which her 30-year-old friend was pretending to be 26 to hang on to her boyfriend. “None of us have made a new friend in 11 years,” said one of the cast. Really? You do surprise me.

The whole enterprise raised the question: where can these Friends rip-offs go next? What will the next one bring? Will we finally reach a stage where the characters become so uniform-yet-charmless that they’re simply represented by a phial of Botox and a lingering belch?

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