"Partners" on CBS and Two Other Gay-themed Sitcoms on NBC Are in the Pilot Stage

posted Mar 14, 2012, 11:53 AM by Terrence Moss   [ updated Mar 14, 2012, 12:08 PM ]
Last Friday, I attended the network run-through of the pilot episode of the prospective fall CBS sitcom Partners starring Michael Urie of ABC’s still-beloved-at-least-by-me Ugly Betty (2006-2010) and David Krumholtz of  CBS’s Numbers (2005-2010).

The series, or some semblance of it, has long been in gestation as Will & Grace creators and producers David Kohan and Max Mutchnick have been trying to develop a comedy based on their straight man/gay man business partnership for several years.

In this incarnation, Urie and Krumholtz play a gay man and straight man who are lifelong friends and business partners – a relationship that often resembles a marriage. It is one of three gay-themed pilots in contention for slots on the broadcast network’s fall schedule.


WITH US

It was announced in August that Sean Hayes (also of Will & Grace) was returning to series TV with a new sitcom for NBC called Us. Hayes will play one-half of a gay couple raising a 12-year-old.
 

Written by Rescue Me co-creator Peter Tolan and Michael Wimer, the series, according to Hayes, will be different in that there won’t be conversations about parenting differences.

Details have been scant about the project and not much has been reported about it since October, so I am not sure as to its status at this point – although I did have a lot to say about it back in August. 

The premise is reminiscent of the 2007 feature Breakfast with Scot starring Tom Cavanaugh and Ben Shankman as Eric and Sam, a gay couple who find themselves called upon to raise the 11-year-old son of Sam’s brother Billy’s ex-girlfriend Julie after she is found dead of a drug overdose.

I’m very interested in hearing more about Us and seeing how it develops. If they’re still casting parts, I would love to see a Tom Cavanaugh or a Derek Luke as the other half of Sean Hayes’ character Patrick. Like Breakfast with Scot, the kid should be a bit odd – something the parents can’t fully understand. Much of the humor can stem from that. Doris Roberts and/or Phylicia Rashad should be worked into the premise somehow if either of their pilots (the sitcom Counter Culture and the drama Do Not Harm, respectively) doesn’t make it to series. They’re both just awesome.

 

NORMAL, SEE?

The third pilot is the single-camera blended family comedy The New Normal created by Ryan Murphy -- the fairy godfather behind FOX’s Glee and FX’s American Horror Story. The New Normal stars Andrew Rannells of Broadway’s The Book of Mormon and the very handsome Justin Bartha of The Hangover films as gay couple Bryan and David.

Scottish actress Georgia King plays Goldie, a woman who becomes a surrogate to help them have a child. Rounding out the main cast is Emmy winner (in 1998 as Outstanding Lead Actress in a Miniseries or TV Movie for Before Women Had Wings) Ellen Barkin, who will play Goldie’s glamorous but bigoted grandmother.

I’m excited about this concept because this will be the first time we’ll be seeing the topic of gay surrogacy explored front and center on a television series .


THE OTHER PARTNERS

In addition to Urie as Lewis and Krumholtz as Charlie, the cast of Partners includes Superman Brandon Routh as Louis’s life partner. Based on all the reports of Routh’s casting, his character must not have had a name and I don’t remember it from the taping because I figured it would have been mentioned SOMEWHERE.

Elizabeth Regen was set to play Ro-Ro, Lewis and Charlie’s assistant -- bringing back her “ghetto white girl” characterization that I had originally seen on Whoopi Goldberg’s short-lived NBC sitcom in 2003 and in a less over-the-top form on Sherri Shepherd’s short-lived 2009 Lifetime sitcom. However, as I was writing this, the role was downgraded to guest-starring yesterday and Regan was inexplicably replaced with Terry Vilar. 

Sophia Bush, of the CW’s departing One Tree Hill, plays Charlie’s fiancé and jewelry boutique owner Ali. Lucy Davis, of Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip and the UK version of The Office, was set to play her downer assistant Renata. Also as of yesterday, that character has been written out with a new guest starring character, Cassandra, being written that will be played by Molly Shannon.

Davis’ ouster is strange considering she garnered the biggest laugh of the night during the pilot taping.

Based on the network run-through of the pilot, with a tragically non-diverse group of CBS execs and other whatnots shuffling back and forth from set to set after each scene, the series has promise. I’m sure there will be more changes between today’s taping of the actual pilot and its hoped-for debut, but CBS should be pleased enough with what they’re seeing to pick up the series.

Under the safe assumption that CBS expands on their second night of comedy on Thursdays, Partners could do very following The Big Bang Theory or 2 Broke Girls – either of which will either be scheduled for 8pm or 9pm. Given its Will & Grace pedigree and likely director in the go-to James Burrows, Partners would come to television with a greater cache attached to it than Thursday predecessors Shit My Dad Says, utility player Rules of Engagement or even Rob! -- which deserves a second season.

The standout is going to be Michael Urie, who infuses Louis with an unlikely combination of a more down-to-earth Jack MacFarland and Lucy Ricardo after her outrageous schemes blow up in her face. I loved Urie’s work on Ugly Betty. He’ll always be treasured by me and most remembered by many for his sassy-with-heart Marc St. James character, but I saw no shades of him in Louis. In fact, Marc didn’t even come to mind during the run-through – a testament to the strength of Urie as a comedic actor.

Krumholtz as Charlie is clearly the straight man in both senses of the word -- the Ricky to Urie’s half-Lucy, if you will. As was the case with Ricky where any anger toward Lucy would be short-lived, a similar long-suffering, unconditional love between the two longtime friends is quickly established.

Owing nothing to Krumholtz as an actor, his casting two weeks ago opposite Urie (cast two weeks prior to that) was odd to me for some reason. However, if their close-knit friendship is anything like a marriage and if no pairing this side of Felix and Oscar could be odder than Lucy and Ricky, then odd is good.

To the credit of both actors, it works. I believe that Urie as Louis cares very deeply for Krumholtz as Charlie and the reciprocal affection Krumholtz as Charlie ultimately has for Urie as Louis translates beautifully.

Less can be said for their romantic counterparts.

Outside of name recognition that was completely lost on me, I don’t know the reasoning behind the casting of Sophia Bush as Ali. I probably wouldn’t understand it even if I did know. Unlike the friendship between Urie as Louis and Krumholtz as Charlie, I didn’t buy the relationship between Krumholtz as Charlie and Bush as Ali. There was something superficial about her performance that didn’t mesh with the more grounded performance of Krumholtz.

Certain that she could easily secure other work, I wouldn’t be upset if the role of Ali was recast – perhaps with Krumholtz’s real-life wife, the actress Vanessa Britting. I will admit to some level of bias here since Britting and I are alumni of the same high school in Rockaway, New Jersey. However, having shared the stage with her on a couple of occasions, watched her perform from the audience on a couple other occasions and thrilled to have seen her in a 2009 episode of Desperate Housewives, I stand by this casting suggestion.

Should Krumholtz and Britting not want to mix bring home to work and vice versa, bias also brings Enterprise profilees Deborah Puette and Chelsea Didier to mind as well.

Call me chauvinistic, but I’m more forgiving of Brandon Routh because he as Louis’s life partner is more convincing to me than

Bush as Ali as the fiancé of Krumholtz as Charlie. This is not to say there isn’t anything lacking about Routh’s delivery. But because Louis’s character is a combination Jack/Lucy, the character of his life partner must be lower-key to maintain balance. Here is where the casting of Routh works. Plus, Urie is so strong as an actor that he can take up anyone’s slack.

It is my hope that all three sitcoms – Partners on CBS and The New Normal and Us on NBC – make it to series. If only one or two of these pilots are picked up, each of them face greater pressure to be fully representative of gay life and gay culture – which, as Queer as Folk (2000-2005) and The L Word (2004-2009) came to understand, is impossible.

While having three gay-themed series on the air (on broadcast network television mind you) would be unprecedented in and of itself, it would still not be enough to be reflective of all the diversified aspects of gay life and culture. This is both good and bad. The good is that such a precedent would show the world that there is greater diversity to the so-called gay lifestyle than most people realize or care to realize. The bad is that, though groundbreaking, television has a whole still has a ways to go to get to where what is seen on television comes closer to mirroring what is going on in reality.

While topics ranging from drug use to adoption to self-esteem to career success to loneliness to violence and disease have been covered, television has barely scratched the surface of breadth and depth of these and many other topics. Having all three pilots on the air next season would be a great start. If none of them actually make it on the air, which I don’t see happening, progress has still been made. For the first time, leading gay characters are seen as already partnered, looking to raise children or already raising children.

Now if most or all of these actors are in fact gay, which I doubt, that’s even better. It’s not that openly straight guys can’t or shouldn’t be cast in gay roles but we’ve seen that many times before. We don’t always get to see openly gay or not-so-openly gay actors filling gay roles.

My concern is that NBC might want to go with only one of their pilots for fear of seeming repetitive. This didn’t stop them during the 2006 development season when 30 Rock and Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip, both taking place behind the scenes of a TV variety show, made it to air. Granted, the former was a sitcom and the latter was a drama. In this case, the differentiation could be that The New Normal is single-camera and Us is likely to be multi-camera given Sean Hayes’ Will & Grace experience. 

Of course, if this does happen, NBC will throw out some PR bullshit about one of the pilots being stronger than the other, one of them fitting better into their ever-evolving brand than the other and/or seeing long-term potential for one over the other as if they’ve exercised any level of long-term thinking in the last ten years. Unfortunately, the beauty of spin is that I wouldn’t necessarily be able to contradict any of it.

If I had to choose the one pilot out of the three that I’d most like to see this fall, it would be Partners. Granted, that’s the one pilot that I have seen and the one pilot that’s been most widely reported on, but as a concept it is dearer and nearer to my heart than the other two because I find the gay man/straight man dynamic absolutely fascinating. 

Kohan and Mutchnick have already traversed the well-worn ground of gay men/straight women relationships – and in groundbreaking fashion. If they can do the same with the gay man and straight men without the co-dependency, then Partners should have a long and happy life.

 

Sources: deadline.com, digitalspy.com, imdb.com


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