WHAT can I tell you about "Four Kings" that you won't already know? It premieres tonight at 8:30 on NBC. By 8:46, or thereabouts, you will understand everything.
It's one of those they-move-in-together comedies. Here, in a twist for a sitcom on NBC, the characters are four single white guys in Manhattan. They are named Ben, Jason, Bobby and Barry. They are played, respectively, by Josh Cooke ("Committed"), Todd Grinnell (dunno), Shane McRae (dunno) and Seth Green (Seth Green).
We appear, once again, to be smack in the middle of shows developed when "Sex and the City" was at the height of its popularity. They emerged in the fall and now again in January. "Four Kings" is like two other midseason comedies, CBS' "Love Monkey" and ABC's "Emily's Reasons Why Not" -- the sitcom- as-dizzy-relationship comedy, featuring sympathetic monogamists, the politics and semantics and pitfalls of dating discussed in salons of three or four.
"Four Kings" is merely the most aggressively a sitcom, a sitcom in a box, like a Happy Meal. It's a throwback to a mid-'90s "Friends" rip-off ("Four Kings and a Pizza Place," if you prefer), except that there isn't a pizza place, there's a big apartment, and skyline cutaways that suggest we're in Manhattan.
Series creators David Kohan and Max Mutchnick, and James Burrows, who directed the pilot, are old hands at the banter. Their shows include "Will & Grace," "Good Morning, Miami," and "Twins," currently on the WB; they not only know how to get from the lunch meeting to the network order, they know how to make the episode move, how to set up the dilemma credibly and resolve it, how to deliver the laugh line, how to surprise with the zany moment.
But all of that snappy ability can have the effect of a local anesthetic. "Four Kings" opens on a laundromat, where our four friends from childhood are doing their wash together (did I miss that Sunday New York Times Style section piece?). Immediately you can sense that the chemistry of the four actors is the creaky 2-by-4 on which the show is perched.
Barry is short and angry (or "three feet of angry"), Ben is the archetypal sitcom GQ mensch. They are rounded out by supporting characters Jason, who's dense and obtuse, like Joey of "Friends," and Bobby, who's acerbic and fussy, like Chandler of "Friends."
"Dude, can I piggyback on your load?" Jason asks in the laundromat.
"I'm not sure why, but don't ever say that phrase to me again," says Bobby.
You can hear how that line must have killed at the table reading.
Soon (the next scene, in fact), Ben has inherited his grandmother's fabulous town house, and these four misfit buddies, with their arrested development tendencies and array of Banana Republic metrosexual fashion combinations, will be sharing the same interior apartment sets and trading in low-to-high hilarity.
NBC has long had sitcoms like "Four Kings" on Thursday nights, which the network is now trumpeting again as a block of signature comedies, having shifted the fresher "My Name Is Earl" and "The Office" from Tuesday to Thursday while sticking "Four Kings" behind "Will & Grace." It's a nice little bit of revisionism, NBC apparently paying homage to an old dilemma -- what goes with "Friends."
When: 8:30 tonight
Executive producers and series creators: David Kohan and Max Mutchnick.