FX is rolling the dice with a new sit-com that pulls Martin Lawrence and Kelsey Grammer out of the past, and puts them in a new show that seems tailored to wedge into TV Land‘s schedule. Not that this describes a bad show on its own, but it doesn’t exactly feel like something that the network’s fans are clearly going to flock to. On the other hand, if FX is hoping to broaden its horizons, I hope it works out for them.
The show follows two attorneys, Allen Braddock (Grammer) and Marcus Jackson (Lawrence), as they find themselves thrown together by circumstance, and become partners. Braddock worked in his father’s prestigious law firm, but has managed to create such a horrible reputation for himself, that even his father fired him. Jackson is quite the opposite. Judges love him, he wants to help people whenever he can, and he thinks lawyers like Braddock give the profession a bad name. Jackson is so nice that he doesn’t want to contest the details of his divorce settlement, because he feels guilty about never being around. This is where Braddock figures he can get his foot in the door.
Braddock needs a place to practice law, and would like to hitch his wagon to Jackson’s reputation, and Jackson needs to know the truth about what’s been going on in his marriage, and/or needs someone around who isn’t quite so naive in his perspective.
The show’s comedy, like a great many throwback efforts that are making their mark recently, harkens back to a simpler styling of sit-com, but also has a certain grit of update about it. On the one hand, Braddock’s relationship with his daughter, and his unapologetic steering of legal ethics, within the context of a sit-com, moves us toward a more modern approach. As does the overall relationship of the two stars, and their near-constant trading of barbs. On the other hand, the plot movements and construction are the kind of simplistic, obvious maneuvers that remind us of things like Family Ties, or in the case of Braddock and Jackson’s foray into church espionage, Three’s Company and/or Perfect Strangers.
Whatever theory you’re trying to deliver, that’s a rough combination, and given that there is little about the show to really serve up serious laughs, it’s one that makes it tricky to continue to tune in long enough to fall in love with this pair. That’s a shame, because, like so many shows of every genre, this one has hints of what will be after about twenty episodes, and that’s a show I want to watch.
Martin Lawrence has a far greater ability here than you’ve ever seen before, allowing for the subtlety of a situation, and the well-timed delivery of a line. Grammer, coming off of a brilliant turn at drama, is perhaps too locked into the overall stylings of a character he played for two decades, but manages to provide some laughs anyway. I wish that he might spin the character just that slight bit more toward a guy we are struggling to like, as opposed to a kind of whimsical version of ethically-challenged, but you probably can’t have everything.
Establishment being what it is, the supporting cast is mostly wasted through the first few episodes, but are likely to become the most important draw of the show. Edi Patterson plays Jackson’s investigator, and the character, combined with Patterson’s winning charisma makes for the sort of TV entity for which the spin-off was created. Rory O’Malley, playing Jackson’s assistant, isn’t quite in the same league, but is also a lot of fun to watch, but he is unfortunately in the show very little at first. The construction of the show is obviously to focus on the hilarity that ensues when we throw our Partners together, with the supporting cast mostly laying in wait for the lines the writing room can’t figure out how to put in either partners’ mouth, but the show would be best served by switching gears in a hurry, and turning this into something much more the ensemble piece.
Still, this one is mostly harmless fun, and pulls you in fairly well. It’s worth giving a chance to see how things play out, but so far it may be aiming slightly too far to the silly side of throwback sit-coms, something that the general movement has not had great success with, and for good reason.
Partners Clip – Martin Becomes Exhibit A