Since debuting on Broadway in 1965 as Neil Simon’s The Odd Couple, the ageless story of Felix Unger and Oscar Madison has been adapted five times on film, the latest being CBS’s first new comedy of 2015. Starring Matthew Perry as Oscar and Thomas Lennon as Felix, this particular iteration of The Odd Couple turns the timeless dissonance of Felix and Oscar’s friendship into a toothless “buddy” comedy whose strongest feature – at least in the pilot – is some barely-disguised gay panic. Developed by Perry and Mad About You/Two Guys and a Girl EP Danny Jacobson, The Odd Couple is the latest failed attempt to bring Matthew Perry back to TV, and the worst of the bunch yet.
At least previous Perry projects (that’s a fun phrase) had some ambitious premises; Go On tried to tell a comedy about a support group, and Mr. Sunshine had Allison Janney to yell at Perry, which was at least entertaining (and Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip is a magnificent mess I could write thousands of words about). The Odd Couple‘s pilot is a lifeless imitation with a saccharine laugh track thrown on top. The best joke is recycled from previous material (“F.U.”), and there’s really no chemistry between Perry and co-star Lennon in creating a comedic dichotomy between the two characters; their back-and-forth mostly consists of Oscar insulting Felix, while continuously trying to convince everyone around him that no, Felix isn’t gay, just weird. Not only is the story insulting to Felix’s character, but they can’t even breathe life or humor into the stereotypes its embracing: the biggest gay joke comes from Felix doing yoga, which marks the 4,356th time that joke has been made since 1993 – and it’s no funnier here than it was the thousands of times that came before.
And then there’s the misogynistic plot at the center; Oscar wants to sleep with his neighbor, so he pushes his brother to go on a double date with her sister, even though Felix is 12 hours into single life, after 20 years of marriage (Oscar is also divorced, which makes his non-shaving, non-pants wearing life acceptable). It goes horribly, and when Felix tries to grieve by looking at pictures of his wife, the script punishes him when Oscar’s “date” (a model who just wants to hook up with someone; because a model would want to hook up with a washed-up, obnoxious radio host?) walks out after Oscar himself gets emotional from seeing pictures of his own ex-wife.
Does the pilot take this emotion seriously? Of course not – ultimately, The Odd Couple wants to punish its characters for exhibiting feelings, taking a frat boy approach to the clever story of two insufferable men who slowly learn the value of compromise. All The Odd Couple needed was for an extra to point at Matthew Perry and laugh at him while he got emotional; to this iteration of The Odd Couple, “healing” consists of getting laid, hanging out with your bro who you insult and diminish at every turn, and being endlessly bitter. It makes both Felix and Oscar intensely insufferable, with no redeeming factors, or reasons to tolerate Felix or Oscar’s behavior except “but they’re white, upper-class buddies!.
And it’s not even that The Odd Couple strains itself to be funny; it just has a horrid sense of humor, playing to the simplest jokes (usually directed at Felix, emotions, or anything vaguely feminine not related to casual hook-ups) and slapping on an obnoxious laugh track to try and massage a real audience into laughing, a show that fits neatly right on a shelf next to recent failed CBS comedies like Partners and How to Be a Gentlemen, two equally terrible variations on the same theme.
(The Odd Couple premieres at 8:30pm ET on CBS).
[Photo via CBS]