Some good actors have come temporarily to roost on "Friends With Better Lives," a new CBS sitcom premiering Monday. It concerns a group of, yes, friends. Some — you may have also gleaned from the title — are less than satisfied with their lot. The friends, I mean; I can't speak for the actors.
Not for the first time in television history, an ensemble has been created whose characters seem related by fiat. Their continuing presence in one another's lives is accounted for presumably by their shared history, rather than by common interests or congruous personalities. In any case, they are stuck with one another.
Creator Dana Klein worked on the original "Friends" as a producer and writer, and this "Friends (etc.)" is ultimately a version of that earlier show, like many that followed. Indeed, it seems no coincidence that "Friends With Better Lives" is coming to the air at the very moment that the network's long-running "How I Met Your Mother" breathes its last. One Dalai Lama is reincarnated in the next.
The particular point of this series, its nubbin of originality, is that all the characters are in different stages of a relationship, or nonrelationship. Bobby (Kevin Connolly, from "Entourage") and Andi (Majandra Delfino, spinning her lines into the semblance of a real person) are married with children, and a little bored. James Van Der Beek (Dawson of "Dawson's Creek" and last sighted on the less conventional "Don't Trust the B in Apartment 23") is getting divorced, to his dismay, and living with Bobby and Andi, much to their dismay. Kate (Zoe Lister-Jones, "Whitney") is single, from pickiness; and Jules (Brooklyn Decker, also more dimensional than her part would suggest) and Lowell (Rick Donald) are in a new relationship after meeting at a yoga retreat and having a lot of sex.
Not all are likable.
One notable difference between Bobby and Andi and Lowell and Jules, given the medium, is that Bobby and Andi watch television and Lowell, who is a transcendentally meditating Buddhist who owns a natural food restaurant ("Nut cheese for everyone," he declares there, by way of celebration) and plays the guitar, does not. For all these things he is mocked.
"If I wanted to hear an idiot playing guitar, I'd still be dating John Mayer," Kate says of him. A Lilith-in-"Cheers" type, she also has this to say about herself: "I went to Harvard business school, I own the hottest social media company in the country, I haven't cried since 1987 and I'm phenomenal in bed." Not all these statements seem credible. Nor does her apparent desperation to find a boyfriend, which in the pilot leads to a sour turn on an old "Mary Tyler Moore" episode that reflects well on no one.
There is a professional, even a grim efficiency to the jokes, which approach like B-52 bombers, drop their punch lines and head back to base. There are breast jokes, genital jokes, a long oral sex joke, an alcoholic-sorority-girl-defecating-in-a-closet joke. A few hit, many miss. The war goes on.
'Friends With Better Lives'
When: 9 p.m. Monday
Rating: TV-14-DL (may be unsuitable for children under the age of 14 with advisories for suggestive dialogue and coarse language)