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May 15, 2006 |

By Seth Freilich | TV | May 15, 2006 |

As I write this review, we’re smack-dab in the middle of Passover, one of my peeps’ high holidays. As you may or may not know, one of the central components of the Passover story is the tale of the 10 plagues that the Lord sent down upon the Pharaoh and his people to persuade them to let Moses and the Jews go free. In honor of this, let me tell you about the 10 plagues that ABC has sent down upon the viewers of “What About Brian” (Mondays, 10 p.m.).

The First Plague: Rote Characters.

The lead character, Brian, is one of those diamond-in-the-rough kind of guys — the guy whose friends think is too good for all of the usual chicks he ends up dating and who just needs to settle down with that special someone. And he has to settle down because he’s the seventh wheel among his friends, a collection of guys and gals with their own quirky relationship flaws (see The Second Plague) who just want to see their favorite single friend happily in a relationship of his own, because if you’re over 30 and still single, your life is flawed in a very fundamental way. And as for these friends, there’s the best-friend fun-boy/bad-boy, the quirky co-worker/friend and the entirely undeveloped foreign-accented brother-in-law. Then there’s the baby-craving sister, the “perfect woman” friend, and the conflicted-about-her-marriage girl. Rote, rote, rote.

The Second Plague: Manufactured Drama.

ABC has clearly styled much of this show after “Grey’s Anatomy.” One of the things it learned from that show is that viewers enjoy themselves a good love triangle. So the pilot immediately provides such a manufactured scenario, as Brian realizes that he is in love with his bad-boy best friend’s girlfriend of two years, Marjorie. The whole thing is utterly forced and thrown-down-your-throat so that it’s simply impossible to care about it at all. While “Grey’s Anatomy” is not any great work of art, it is entertaining for what it is. One of the main reasons that show’s triangle works infinitely better than “Brian“‘s (aside from better acting, better writing, and better humor) is that it was allowed to develop a little more naturally. The show got you to care about the Ellen/Dr. McDreamy relationship before throwing a kink by bringing McDreamy’s somewhat estranged wife into the picture. For its flaws, CBS’ now defunct “Love Monkey” seemed to have understood that too — it appeared to be building toward a similar triangle involving Tom/Ed/Tom and his best friend, but it was taking the slow approach, trying to get you to care about the characters first. If you’re not invested in the characters at all — and it’s hard to be that invested 20 minutes into a pilot — you’re just not going to give a shit about some love triangle.

The three couples surrounding Brian all have their own manufactured (and utterly simplistic and tired) relationship dramas. Brian’s older sister and her younger foreign-accented husband are having troubles conceiving a baby. Brian’s quirky co-worker friend and his wife are having post-children marital problems, exacerbated by the wife’s desire to have her meter read by a new man. And Marjorie and her now-fiance, Adam, are each conflicted in their own ways about getting married. Good writing and good acting can go a long way toward getting you over the hump created by such blandness. But, as you might guess, with eight plagues left to discuss, we’re not getting over that hump.

The Third Plague: Cliched Style.

Even if you haven’t seen this show yet, you’ve already seen it. It’s one of those “relationship” shows that throws around a lot of clever and witty dialogue, with its quirky characters winding up in all sorts of crazy situations. As I said, it’s clearly designed to be the new “Grey’s Anatomy.” It’s the same kind of style that “Love Monkey” was shooting for and that “Veronica Mars” has achieved. The thing is, “Grey’s” and “Veronica” actually have witty dialogue. Even though I find “Grey’s” to be a lot of fluff, it’s very entertaining fluff. “Brian“‘s attempted “wit” misses the mark pretty much all of the time, and you can see each strained attempt at being slick and clever. Which leads right into the next plague. …

The Fourth Plague: Manufactured Hijinks.

The pilot episode treated us to Brian getting into a car accident and then dating the driver of that other car (so wittily referred to by the friends as “Car Girl”). Car Girl turns out to be a nut-job and, when she locks Brian out of his own apartment after he breaks up with her (how crazy!), Brian and Marjorie are forced to break into his own apartment so he can get the stuff he needs for the next day. And their hushed running around and shenanigans are all done to the backdrop of Tom Petty’s “American Girl.” How fun!

The second episode throws similar hijinks at the poor viewer, as Brian ends up sleeping with a girl named Amy only to have a meet-cute with her roommate, another Amy, while showering the next morning. He realizes that New Amy is more his style than Old Amy, and so he and his buddies crash a party she’s at and he hooks up with New Amy, but she ultimately decides that they can’t enter into a relationship because that would be awkward, on account of the fact that he’s already slept with her roommate, Old Amy. It’s all so situationally wacky!

The Fifth Plague: Vanilla Acting.

The acting isn’t bad, per se. It’s just utterly bland. Granted, there’s not a lot to work with from a story/dialogue/character development angle, but even still, I’ve seen good actors rise above crappy pieces. Ain’t happening here. The guy who plays the quirky-friend, Rick Gomez, is decent. And while I’ve never been a big fan of hers, I suppose there is some potential with Rosanna Arquette (although she’s looking eerily more and more like Skeletor these days). Aside from that, there’s nothing there.

And that’s particularly problematic for Marjorie. They apparently recast her after the original pilot was filmed, realizing how crucial she is to the show’s success, as she is supposed to be the catch of all catches. Well, the new Marjorie (Sarah Lancaster) hasn’t given them what they need. She’s supposed to be this amazing girl that two best friends are both in love with, yet she doesn’t offer any of the charisma or appeal that such a character should have. I mean, even though I’m a straight man, I can totally understand how two girls are all in “Grey’s” Dr. Shepherd’s Kool-Aid. But I don’t really get why one guy is so enamored with Marjorie, let alone two of them.

The Sixth Plague: Killing Me Softly With Your Music.

As I’ve talked about in previous reviews, I love when a show really uses music well. Whether it’s just a strong ear for picking good tunes (like “Veronica Mars,” “Scrubs,” or the earlier days of “The O.C.”) or really solid integration/weaving of the songs (as “Grey’s Anatomy” often manages), it’s an element that can add a lot to my personal enjoyment of a show. And because it’s become a popular trend of late, it’s no surprise that “Brian” tries it as well. Nor should it be any surprise to you, dear reader, that the show fails.

As I mentioned above, we were hit with “American Girl” during the hinjinks scene, to give us an understanding of the intended fun and upbeatness of that scene. Similarly, when Brian first enters his office (a “cool-guy” computer gaming company), The Who’s “Baba O’Riley” is playing (you know the song — it’s the one, I, like many folks, used to think was called “Teenage Wasteland”). Because that song is hip and young, just like these guys. And perhaps the worst musical offense — using U2’s “Stuck in a Moment You Can’t Get Out Of” while Brian rushes off to Vegas to confess his love to Marjorie, only to bail on actually confronting her at the last minute, only to be seen by Marjorie anyway while he’s walking away, etc., etc., puke. See, because he is stuck in a moment. Just like the song says.

Oh, and when he finally makes his declaration to Marjorie, since he’s stuck in this moment he can’t get out of, we get our next plague. …

The Seventh Plague: Just Read It.

“I think I have serious feelings for you. Feelings that I think I had long before we kissed last night. But now that I’m here, I realize I can’t say that, because it doesn’t matter how I feel about you. … I can’t do that to Adam or you. Because if I’m going to be the best man in your wedding, I better actually be the best man.”

The Eighth Plague: Fucking Boredom.

Inexplicably, most of the reviews I’ve seen for this show have been fairly positive. But I was just utterly bored by the whole thing. I can forgive a lot of weakness in a show if it entertains me (“24,” for example has many, many problems but, even when it’s at its low points, it’s still a pretty entertaining show, which is why we all keep watching). The whole time I was watching “What About Brian” on Sunday night, I just kept thinking about the fact that I could instead be watching the being-TiVo’d “Big Love.”

The Ninth Plague: So, What, Exactly, Is a “Series Premiere?”

Sunday night, ABC aired the show’s pilot. They then aired a second episode on Monday at 10 p.m., in the show’s regular timeslot. That second airing was advertised as the “series premiere.” In my world, that term should really only be used on the premiere episode of a series. Which was Sunday night! ABC — what the fuck?

And as for the Monday slot, its regular home, I haven’t seen the ratings yet but, against both “Medium” and “CSI: Miami,” I suspect the show may not be long for this world. Unless ABC is willing to give it more time and patience than it’s recently shown itself capable of. Not that I would complain if this show is prematurely cancelled, as I won’t be watching it anyway.

The Tenth Plague. I Got Nothing.

This whole “10 plagues” idea started off strong, but I’ve been really reaching for things as we come down the home stretch. And here at number 10, I got nothing left. So let’s just agree that “What About Brian” sucked, and for however much longer it’s on the air, you can feel totally comfortable in skipping it. Go spend the time digging in the couch cushions for the afikomen instead!

Seth Frelich is a television columnist for Pajiba. He lives in Washignton, D.C. and couldn’t be happier that summer “intern season” is finally here.

"What About Brian" / The TV Whore

May 15, 2006

TV | May 15, 2006 |

Seth is a Senior Editor and sometime critic. You may email him here or follow him on Twitter.

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