‘Partners': The Post-Mortem
Sometimes TV shows drag their unfunny, uninteresting, yet highly rated feet across our living rooms for years. “Who let this happen?” we ponder as our foreheads turn red from frequent smacks. Other times, the powers that be get things right. That’s where “Brilliantly Canceled” comes in, looking at the shows that didn’t make it past their first season and saved us all a ton of grief.
If there ever was a sure thing in this world, it’s that Partners was going to be a part of our lives for a very long time.
The lone new sitcom on CBS’ 2012 fall lineup, Partners was on a highly rated Monday night, comfortably sandwiched between the age defying How I Met Your Mother and the hipster hating 2 Broke Girls in the 8:30 time slot, a position that the popular 2 Broke Girls occupied in their inaugural season just last year. The show was created and executive produced by Max Mutchnick and David Kohan, the same gentlemen responsible for the long running sitcom Will and Grace that anchored the last ratings dominant era of “Must See TV.” Every episode was directed by James Burrows, the most popular sitcom director in the world. Every member of the cast was pre-approved by audiences, including David Krumholtz, a man who possesses an almost Tom Hanksian level of likability, and Brandon Routh, a human individual deemed worthy enough to play Superman.
But not only is Partners not going to run eight times a day on basic cable and your friendly neighborhood local network affiliate for the next fifty years, it got cancelled before it could air its seventh episode. A few days after the cancellation, CBS basically pretended that it never existed.
So what went wrong? How did the show on day one shed over two million viewers from its lead-in and never improve? Bad publicity didn’t help. Jeff Greenstein, who at one time worked with Mutchnick and Kohan on Will and Grace, noticed immediately after the network upfronts this past May that Mutchnick and Kohan’s Partners bore a more than passing resemblance to a show he co-executive produced in 1995 called…Partners. The 2012 Partners centered around the friendship of Joe and Louis, two lifelong buddies in an architecture firm. The 1995 Partners focused on Bob and Owen, two architect pals that worked in the same office. The female lead, who is engaged to one of the dudes in the 2012 version, went by Ali. In 1995, the female lead who is engaged to one of the men: Ali…cia. To pile onto the empirical evidence, Greenstein tweeted that Mutchnick and Kohan were “big fans” of his show. (James Burrows didn’t say a word about any of this even though he directed a few episodes of the original Partners. To be fair, he’s directed every network comedy you could think of and ten more.) In Mutchnick and Kohan’s defense, it’s doubtful that they attempted to rip off Greenstein’s Partners in not making it past its first season.
In regards to the show itself, the pilot episode had a lot of red flags. If you watched CBS this past summer for more than 20 minutes, or the first episode itself, you were completely bombarded with Michael Urie’s ridiculously over the top character Louis. Louis was an incredibly self-centered individual that made his best friend Joe’s (Krumholtz) big decision on whether to dump or propose to his girlfriend Ali (Sophia Bush) about himself, and unrepentantly referred to his long-term boyfriend Wyatt (Brandon Routh) as a doctor because he was embarrassed that he was a nurse. Louis was so unlikable that in the entire final act the show tried to unsuccessfully convince the audience that Louis is worth knowing. Wyatt had to remind Joe that Louis isn’t always a tremendous jerk before making a terrible “heart on” pun, which would be repeated again in the concluding moments of the episode, to the horrifically huge delight of the laugh track. Also, the show asked us to ignore that Joe got engaged one evening and did not tell his supposed best friend until the next morning, even though he would be aware that Louis and Ali attend the same morning yoga class. Brendan Routh’s Wyatt was a character that only felt the need to speak in one tone, and Ali was equally as underdeveloped.
To Partners‘ credit, there were some improvements, namely the recalibration of Louis. Urie dialed the energy down from an 11 to a 6 in subsequent episodes, and Ali was made to go from simply tolerating Louis to treating him as a close friend (So how bad can he be?!). Mutchnick, Kohan and producer Jeff Astrof quickly realized that Brandon Routh pretty much always plays monotonic, frigid characters and gave Wyatt a riotous past that led him to his conservative emotional state. Sophia Bush realized that her nine year stint on the drama One Tree Hill was over. But for every promising moment, like David Krumholtz and his secretary acting out a back and forth with an Abbott and Costello rhythm, or legitimately amusing running gags that didn’t overstay their welcome (more specifically for the few completists out there I refer to the “I don’t want to start a fight” and the unable to look Joe in the eye bits), there would be a “morning sausage” utterance and the archaic (is it 1995?) laugh track again. A cousin of Ali’s, played by Jillian from Workaholics, was abruptly introduced, and just as quickly disappeared. The Sklar brothers are always welcome, but their guest appearances in the final two episodes changed the energy of the show enough that it flashed a giant spotlight on how directionless and malleable Partners truly was.
It’s really easy to imagine a world where this show is successful. All of the aforementioned sins that they committed in the beginning were either corrected and/or tolerated on network television in this day and age. It is certainly possible that the seven unaired episodes of this show are each a little better than the last. It takes time for writers and producers to get to know the characters they created, and where exactly the funniest jokes can be extracted from them, just like it takes awhile to see what the actors and actresses can and cannot do. But time was something Partners didn’t have, for the reasons written above, but for all we know maybe simply because the title of the show is cursed.
Roger Cormier is a ripoff of the 1987 Fox sitcom Second Chance.