Some decent comedic performances and a few solid, traditionally multi-camera punchlines are wasted in CBS' new comedy "The Class." Created by David Crane ("Friends") and Jeffrey Klarik ("Mad About You"), "The Class" throws an almost unimaginable number of sitcom cliches and conventions into the scene, from one-note stock characters to a grating laugh-track howl. On the plus side, "The Class" may be stagnant enough to help some people come around to appreciating the skillful work being done on its lead-on, "How I Met Your Mother."
The show's plot is sparked by ultra-romantic dopey doc Ethan (Jason Ritter), who's about to marry a girl he was in third grade with. As a weird surprise, he decides to throw a party for her where he invites other, long-forgotten members of their third grade class. Naturally, mostly of their fellow students opt not to attend, but those who can make it are a predictably quirky comedy-ready bunch. There's the suicidal guy (Jesse Tyler Ferguson), the angry gal (Liz Caplan) with the kooky twin sister (Heather Goldenhersh), the reporter (Lucy Punch) who's still bitter that her ex-boyfriend (Sean Maguire) ditched her on prom night for another man, the guy who lives at home (Jon Bernthal) still pining for the ex-girlfriend (Andrea Anders) who's married to a former NFL star (David Keith). For reasons that actually make total sense, Ethan's fiancee thinks his latest flourish is more creepy than endearing and she ditches him on the spot, leaving "The Class" to progress from there.
Basically, "The Class" takes the formula of countless ABC shows -- a group of loosely related strangers come together and sparks fly -- and doesn't know where to go with it. CBS was nice enough to send out three episodes and it's already clear that the writing staff is struggling to find reasons for these characters to continue to interact, splitting them up into several smaller groupings for generic interactions. Three different romantic pairings have already been established and I guess things will spin from there, but if these people began to bore me in 22 minutes, it's hard to imagine anything other than convoluted writing will make them hang out in the future.
Taking flat writing and making funny characters isn't easy, so I salute stage veterans Ferguson and Punch, who make the most immediate headway. I liked Caplan, for her tart delivery, and Bernthal, for never letting his part seem Tribbiani-esque. Ritter struggles with blandness and Maguire with his American accent, but that's still preferable to Goldenhersh, whose acting choices have already had independent observers speculating that she must be either deaf or mentally challenged. A subplot involving Halston's gotta-be-gay husband (Sam Harris) is relentlessly self-amused.
On a side note, given Crane's "Friends" pedigree, the show's lack of diversity should be noted. If you're trying to pick a group of eight people who went to a suburban Philadelphia elementary school and every single actor is white, attractive and rail-thin, that's not a coincidence. At TCA press tour in July, Crane seemed embarrassed when faced with questions about the show's minority representation and he promised that upcoming episodes would show more interest in diversity. He wasn't kidding. The second episode contains jokes about an Indian nurse's unpronounceable name, repeated jokes about the one Latino character's indecipherable accent (even though he speaks perfectly clearly) and another joke in which one character tries to blame a car accident on a "large Hispanic woman."
I won't stick around much longer to see if things get better.Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times