"Some of My Best Friends": What Might Have Been

posted Jan 25, 2012, 5:12 PM by Terrence Moss   [ updated Aug 24, 2014, 4:04 PM ]

Prime-time television is littered with the remains of promising shows cancelled, by some standards, rather prematurely before reaching a full season. I’m With Her, It’s All Relative and Married to the Kelly's during ABC’s sitcom bloodbath in 2004. FOX’s Kitchen Confidential in 2005. And most infamously, My So-Called Life (also on ABC) in 1995.

In 2001, a similar fate befell CBS’s Some of My Best Friends, a sitcom based on the 1997 independent feature Kiss Me, Guido about a straight guy who unknowingly moves into an apartment with a gay guy.

Warren Fairbanks (a post-Hogan Family and pre-Arrested Development Jason Bateman) is a gay writer living in Greenwich Village. In the pilot, he comes home from work one evening to discover that his longtime boyfriend has broken up with him and moved out. Already behind on rent with another payment due, he places an ad for a roommate.

Frankie Zito (Danny Nucci), a straight man, moves out of parent’s home in the Bronx and quits his job at their restaurant to pursue a career as an actor in Manhattan. He answers an ad posted for a GWM, which he mistakenly (and questionably) assumes means “Guy With Money”.

On the strength of Frankie’s good looks, Warren and Frankie’s initial meeting goes rather well until Frankie tells Warren he wants to be an actor and Frankie discovers that Warren is gay. Warren soon changes his tune when Frankie pulls out a wad of cash. Frankie eventually changes his tune when his friend Pino (Michael DeLuise) reminds him of the alternative (moving back in with his parents). Because Warren had already used the cash money to catch up on back and current rent, both agree that the arrangement will be temporary.

Then Warren’s now ex-boyfriend comes by to pick up a coat he left behind. To show how he’s moved on and how well he’s doing, Warren’s friend Vern (a hilarious Alec Mapa) tells him about the hot new guy in Warren’s life. Warren then sheepishly offers Frankie his first acting job – as his hot new boyfriend. Frankie initially declines but changes his mind just as Warren is about to tell his ex the truth.

During this rouse, Frankie’s parents Connie and Joe (Camille Saviola and Joe Grifasi) drop in to discuss his move into the city and his pursuit of an acting career. They press on him to return home and go back to working in the restaurant. When Warren informs them of his debut performance, they reluctantly recant and offer their full support.

The series premiered on February 28, 2001. Despite its short run, the series was plagued with time slot changes, mixed critical reception and preemptions due to the NCAA Tournament. The series was cancelled less than two months later after five telecasts. Its final episode aired on April 11 with two left unaired that eventually resurfaced on the LOGO network.

The series drew unfortunate comparisons to Will & Grace, which was then a big hit on NBC and the only other comedy series on the air with gay lead characters (the drama series Queer as Folk had premiered on Showtime two months prior).

The comparisons were far from accurate as the core dynamic of Some of My Best Friends was that of a gay Odd Couple than Will & Grace or Will & Guido, as some critics called the show.

Warren may have been the Will Truman of the show and Vern the Jack McFarland, but their straight-acting gay guy/flamboyant gay guy dynamic was very secondary to the gay guy/straight guy dynamic that formed the basis of Some of My Best Friends.

The central dynamic of Will & Grace, a gay man whose best friend is a straight woman, can also seen on Some of My Best Friends in a tertiary form between Warren and his sister Meryl (Jessica Lundy), who also manages the building in which Warren, Frankie and Vern live.

Some of My Best Friends was hotly criticized for its so-called stereotyping of the flamboyant gay guy in the form of Vern, dim-bub Italians in the form of Frankie and Pino, the overbearing Italian mother in the form of Connie and the put-upon husband in the form of Joe.

There was even criticism of Warren himself as the gay guy no one can really tell is gay. This is where the critics started talking over themselves. Vern was too gay, Warren was not gay enough. They clearly just didn't understand the show.

Some stereotypes are such for a reason. Though we've seen these archetypes many times before, Vern, Frankie, Pino, Connie, Joe and Warren are still very much human. We know these people. We've seen these people.

None of these people were fools. They weren't written to be fools and the well-cast actors weren't portraying them as fools. There was nothing particularly over-the-top here -- not even Vern, who was generally more grounded (and far more self-sufficient) than Jack McFarland.

I found Warren to be the most refreshing of all the characters – particularly if comparisons to Will Truman are going to be drawn. Warren was self-assured, rational and independent whereas Will was insecure, neurotic, co-dependent on Grace for companionship and co-dependent on Jack for support (though Jack’s part in this was more financial than anything else).

Comparisons to Truman aside, Warren was also a grounded, witty, kind-hearted, self-respecting gay man played to guy-next-door perfection by Bateman. There was no tragedy to Warren. He was not pining for dates or for another relationship – at least not within the seven episodes produced.

Besides being funny, some of the success of Will & Grace can be attributed to the fact that relationships between gay men and straight women were far more commonplace in society than those between a gay man and a straight man. Some of My Best Friends was similarly funny, sometimes even moreso, but its exploration of the more uncommon relationships between gay men and straight men might have been ahead of its time.

Frankie went through the common stages of a straight man’s initial shock at the thought of living with or even being around a gay guy -- "What would people say? What would people think? They’d think I’m gay! Am I gay? Nah, I like chicks!"

Frankie discovers this after he comes out of the shower wearing only a towel around his waist before quickly covering himself up until he can put on a T-shirt because, as many straight guys erroneously believe, all gay guys are attracted to and/or want to bed with one of them.

Eventually, Frankie realizes how silly he’s being. Still, comedies of error ensue in subsequent episodes (see the listing below).

Even Warren has his moment of not wanting to be bothered with having to deal with a straight man in what should be a safe haven – his home. But he quickly finds himself not only involved with Frankie’s life (in the first three episodes), but also that of Frankie’s parents (see Episodes 6 & 7).

Episodes 4 & 5 amounted to just a good ol’ buddy comedy.

This was CBS’s missed opportunity with Some of My Best Friends. This is where the series could further set itself apart from Will & Grace. This is where the series could have achieved long-term success had CBS given it more time to do so.

Within the context of society as a whole, such a dynamic is considered rare or even non-existent. However, I personally have developed more friendships with straight men in recent years than with gay men. It’s been a fascinating situation for me to be sitting among a group of straight men and holding court freely, openly and respectfully.

Questions about my being gay and life as a gay man are asked of me with genuine curiosity. Those questions are then answered by me with complete honesty. They chide me. I chide them. They aren’t boorish buffoons to me. I’m not a punchline to them. They aren’t setting me up for a joke. I’m not cutting them down to vaunt myself.

This is where I imagined Some of My Best Friends would have been headed. Despite their initial discomfort, we would have seen the relationship between Warren and Frankie continue to deepen. Though their initial reasoning for rooming together were mutually self-serving, they were stepping outside of their comfort zones, getting to know one another and becoming a part of each other’s lives – whether they liked it or not.

Frankie might have seen more of Warren’s friends. We might have seen Frankie interact more with Warren’s friends – even Vern, around whom he is quite uncomfortable. We might have seen Frankie simply inquire about going out with Warren or at the very least inquire about Warren and Vern’s escapades that night or the night before. We might have eventually seen Frankie actually go out with Warren to a gay bar once or twice. We might have seen Warren head out to a straight bar with Frankie. We might have seen Warren holding court with Frankie’s friends. Hell, we might have even seen them set each other up on dates and double. Who knows?

Even funnier, we might have seen Warren enter into a long-term relationship with another guy that makes Frankie jealous. Even funnier than that, Frankie could get upset when Warren tells him he’s not attracted to him. That happens.

We’ll never know. What we do know is that as was the case with Felix and Oscar of The Odd Couple, Warren and Frankie would always have each other’s back. Bottom line.

What we missed out on though was the opportunity to see the evolution of Frankie and to a lesser extent Warren as their two different worlds collided. We missed out on the opportunity to watch as they both discovered commonalities to embrace and differences to appreciate. These are the foundations upon which a strong relationship is built.

Of anything we need to see on TV, this is among the most important because we don’t see it very often. The natural, though short-sighted assumption is that such a relationship between a gay man and a straight man does not, can not and will not exist in reality.

Which is exactly why it should be on TV. We saw promise of this in the seven produced episodes of Some of My Best Friends.

Will & Grace co-creators Max Mutchnick, a gay man, and Buz Kohan, a straight man, are long-time friends in real life. They've had a sitcom about their unique dynamic in the works for a few years now. Hopefully that sitcom will see the light of day. Hopefully it will last seven seasons instead of seven episodes. [Interestingly, CBS did air a gay guy/straight guy best friend comedy called Partners starring Michael Urie (of Ugly Betty) and David Krumholtz (of the network's Number) in the fall of 2012. Even more interestingly, seven episodes aired before it went on hiatus -- though the remaining six episodes aired in the spring of 2013.]

It’s time for another show like Some of My Best Friends. It’s time for gay men and straight men alike to come face to face with one another – even if it’s through a TV series.  

But we need not be afraid to cross borders. Gay men need not be uncomfortable around all straight men for fear of being harassed or feeling out of place. Straight men need not worry about going every gay man within a 90-foot radius is checking them out and ready to pounce.

It is through crossing borders that we gain exposure. It is through exposure that we create understanding. It is through understanding that people can be free to live and let live. This is how violence abates.

Just because it’s a sitcom, doesn't mean it can’t have impact. Let’s get Warren and Frankie out on DVD. In the meantime, I found five of the seven produced episodes of Some of My Best Friends on the YouTube.


#1 - “Pilot” – 2/28/01

Straight guy Frankie answers an ad for a GWM looking for a roommate thinking it means “Guy With Money”.

 

#2 - “Fight Night” – 3/7/01

Frankie asks Warren to play it straight when his friends from the neighborhood come over to watch a fight.

 

#3 - “Blah, Blah, Blah” – 3/12/01 (special Monday airing following Everybody Loves Raymond)

Warren and Frankie share Frankie’s girlfriend.

 

#4 - “A Brief Encounter” – 3/28/01

Warren and Frankie each think the other has feelings for them when a pair of Frankie’s underwear goes missing.

 

#5 -“Shaggy Dog Story” – 4/11/01

Warren and Frankie take in a stray dog.

 

#6 -“The Marriage Counselor” – UNAIRED 

When Warren and Vern start socializing with Frankie’s lonely mother, she confesses problems with her marriage.


#7 - “Scenes from an Italian Party” – UNAIRED

Warren plans a 25th wedding anniversary party for Frankie’s parents. 


Photo Credits:

Top Photo: People Magazine - March 5, 2001

Jason Bateman and Danny Nucci - epguides.com

Jason Bateman as Warren Fairbanks 

Danny Nucci as Frankie Zito - zap2it.com