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My Boys (2006)

Having found success airing reruns of recently concluded sitcoms like Sex and the City, Everybody Loves Raymond, and Friends, it appears TBS has sought to create an original sitcom taking elements from these “new classics” in an effort to make a new classic of their own. Have they succeeded? Sort of.

My Boys (premiering tonight at 10/9c) focuses on PJ Franklin (Jordana Spiro), a sportswriter covering the Cubs for the Sun-Times, and her group of male friends. The show attempts a bit of a twist on the Sex and the City formula by surrounding PJ with a group of men with relationship quirks. She helps them manage their love lives while neglecting her own. In fact, she spends roughly four hours per episode explaining in voiceover how she’s like the manager of a baseball team, and “her boys” are the players. This voiceover is the show’s only major narrative flaw, but man is it grating.

Here’s the rundown on the boys and their problems: PJ’s older brother, Andy (Jim Gaffigan), is married with children. He wishes he could still hang around with the boys, drinking and playing poker, but his wife keeps him on a short leash. PJ’s closest friend, Brendan (Reid Scott), can’t seem to stay broken up with his ex-girlfriend. Kenny (Michael Bunin) takes a very long time to lay groundwork to asking a girl out. And Mike (Jamie Kaler) just yells at Kenny a lot. I guess he’s supposed to be the ladies’ man of the group, but like most of the boys, Mike is painted in broad strokes that never quite take shape. It’s a shame, too, because this group of actors are hilarious. They add a lot of nuance and humor to thin characters.

When she’s not ignoring her love life altogether, PJ’s big struggle is to find a guy with whom she can be More Than Friends. She’s somewhat of a tomboy and only has one girl friend (Kellee Stewart). In the pilot, PJ thinks she’s found him when she meets the new kid on the Cubs beat, Bobby Newman (Kyle Howard). Of course, he immediately becomes one of the guys, but the show seems like it’s quietly attempting a will-they-or-won’t-they relationship dynamic.

My Boys comes close to being good. The “boys” are a great ensemble, it has a few laugh-out-loud moments (and several big-smile moments), but unfortunately its flaws outweigh its strengths. The story subject matter is personal and character-driven, which is great if one ignores that we never really get to know these characters. Same with the style of humor—I love that it’s not the typical setup-punchline style of sitcoms, and that more of the humor is derived natrually from the situations and characters. That’s great, but again, the actors obviously have a better awareness of their characters than the writers give to the audience. Even PJ, the character we spend more time with than we should, comes across as underdeveloped. We get the bare essentials of what we need to know about a given character as they’re thrust into the episode’s story, but (the actors’ valiant efforts aside) they never feel like fully realized characters.

My Boys has some odd pacing problems that make the whole show feel stilted and awkward, at least initially. It took awhile to figure out what was causing the problem, and it’s kind of disheartening to write. Jordana Spiro, while gorgeous, ends up being the weak link. She’s hard to believe as a tomboy, she delivers lines in a flat monotone, and her comic timing leaves a bit to be desired. This wouldn’t even be the biggest problem if the show concentrated more on her group of friends (it should), but it’s not really an ensemble so much as a show about a woman who happens to have some friends. Her character drives every story, she’s in almost every scene, and it cripples the show.

There are some hints of better things to come, like several running gags with the boys that are pretty funny (my favorite is Kenny’s insistence on taking girls out for coffee, without asking them out on a date, until they lose interest), and the quality of the writing improved with each episode. The review DVDs I received have episodes one through four and episode nine, which is by far the best episode. Given time to work out its kinks, My Boys could evolve into something pretty entertaining, but it’s not there yet.

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