The Bottom Line
- Stars David Krumholtz, Michael Urie, Sophia Bush, Brandon Routh
- Created by David Kohan and Max Mutchnick
- Airs Mondays at 8:30 p.m. EST starting September 24, 2012, on CBS
Granted, Will & Grace was about a straight woman and a gay man, while Partners is about a straight man and a gay man, but otherwise the dynamic is similar, and the jokes feel dated, not only because the most prominent cultural reference in the first episode is Clay Aiken. David Krumholtz and Michael Urie play the Kohan and Mutchnick analogues, who are architects rather than TV producers, and who’ve been friends and collaborators since childhood. Krumholtz’s Joe is straight and fairly methodical, while Urie’s Louis is gay and more emotional. At this point they don’t do much more than embody stereotypes for their sexualities, although at least Urie isn’t as much of a caricature as Andrew Rannells’ character on The New Normal.
The secondary characters are even more one-dimensional. Each of the two leads has a romantic interest: Joe’s fiancée Ali (Sophia Bush) has essentially no personality, outside of her vaguely defined profession as a jewelry designer. And Louis’ nurse boyfriend Wyatt (Brandon Routh, still best known for the title role in Superman Returns) is broadly sketched as dim-witted but good-hearted. All of these characters could (and should) become more clearly defined over time, but the first episode offers so little to go on that it’s hard to care about what will happen to them later on.
Instead Partners is a lackluster delivery system for wan jokes, almost none of which land. The cast is generically likable without actually being engaging, and the direction from legitimate sitcom icon James Burrows (who has worked on dozens of episodes of Taxi, Cheers, Friends and, yes, Will & Grace, among many other shows) only adds to the dated feel. This show probably would have been right at home on NBC in the ’90s, and would have benefited from the success and boundary-pushing of Will & Grace. But even on CBS, the most conservative broadcast network when it comes to sitcoms, Partners feels safe and timid, not even as bold as the increasingly tired 2 Broke Girls or the sometimes surprisingly subversive How I Met Your Mother.
Given how long Kohan and Mutchnick have been working to bring this project to fruition, maybe finally getting it out there will free them up to be able to take more chances in future episodes. More likely, though, they’ll stick to what worked for them a decade ago and what will now probably work only on the most undemanding of sitcom fans.