Partners is FX’s latest addition to its sitcom lineup, and the latest show to be picked up under the 10/90 model, This is where the network buys ten episodes of a series, and if the show performs well, promises an order of 90 more. Based on what I’ve seen, ten episodes sounds like too many. I’ll be honest, my taste in sitcoms runs far away from the more traditional fare, something Partners obviously reveres as the recipe for success.
Partners takes aim at being the latest incarnation of the “odd couple/buddy” premise. In the slob/loose cannon role, Kelsey Grammer plays hotshot lawyer Allen Braddock, who wins cases, but has little regard for the truth, in the Martin Lawrence is the straight laced guy, Marcus Jackson, a community activist, devoted to seeking justice and won’t lie to win cases. The two cross paths as Braddock is being censured for his conduct and Jackson awaits a ruling on his pending divorce. They decide to work together, in a completely arbitrary turn of events, starting their own firm.
It’s a flimsy setup at best, one from which either character could easily walk away. For a comedy of this nature to work, the mismatched characters need to be forced together, for reasons against their will. The laughs should come as the pair search for common ground, learning to work together and see things from another perspective. The audience has no real reason to invest in either of these characters because the show props them up without the humanistic depths to hook us in. I didn’t care whether Braddock and Jackson were going to learn or grow.
Rather than mining the personalities of the characters’ differences for real moments of humor, Partners spoon feeds us jokes in the tired, sitcom style of jokes: setup/punch line/canned laughter. It grinds whatever story there is to a screeching halt, growing more tedious after each uproarious dubbed instance. Partners tries to appear shocking, mining infidelity, homosexuality, and race for humor material, but never ventures out into dangerous territory. It recalls Fox’s disastrous Dads, but without the bravado to take chances with its jokes, although those jokes were revealed to be just missives drenched in sexism or racism. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not pining for Dads, but Partners avoids real danger at every turn by confusing obvious jokes for making a statement.
More confounding is the involvement of the equivalent of television veterans, Grammer and Lawrence. Both actors have helmed long running, successful sitcoms in their past, but you couldn’t tell it from Partners. There’s no spark, again, no danger in their performances. They look as tired as the material they’re given to perform. I get the feeling they know as little about their characters as we do. Partners’ cast is filled out in the same vein as its execution. The remaining roles are all in line with the traditional sitcom stock characters, like the sassy mother, the spoiled daughter, or the gay assistant. Each plays to the conventions of their role, never eliciting surprises or subverting conventions.
All of this combines to make Partners…weak. Without a bite, without a hook, there’s no reason at all to care about what these characters are going to do. Stale stories punctuated with simple humor is just not a model for success. I wouldn’t count on these Partners staying in business too long.
Premieres Monday, August 4 on FX.
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