Tuned In

Love and Marriage, Fox-Style: Ain't That a Kick in the Head

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Thursday night, Fox debuts two bad sitcoms that together pose a good question: What makes men more miserable–love, or the lack of it?

Taking the shows in reverse order, Happy Hour (8:30 p.m. E.T.) unintentionally makes both singlehood and couplehood into their own special kind of hell. Larry (Lex Medlin), a cocky, martini-mixing smart-ass, has just lost his roommate Brad (Nat Faxon), who has gotten engaged to a controlling shrew (Jamie Denbo). Enter Henry (John Sloan), who’s been dumped by his girlfriend and needs a place to stay. Larry takes in lovesick Henry, seeing a chance to make a new, better Brad by schooling Henry in the ways of avoiding commitment and lying his way into the sack.

The show is a warped copy of CBS’ How I Met Your Mother, right down to each character–the lovelorn bachelor, the engaged couple, the swinger lothario and the will-they-won’t-they-oh-wait-they-already-did love interest–except that it’s cynical, smug and utterly charmless. Soaked like a rancid olive in the smarmy Cocktail Culture vibe that the movie Swingers and Esquire magazine wore out in the ’90s, it could be called How I Met My Jackass Roommate. Every once in a while, though, it shows signs of making its darkness a virtue, like Fox’s Ned and Stacey once did, as when Larry explains to Henry why he serves up martinis, to the strains of Dean Martin, every day at four: "Forty years ago, every man in this country was half drunk by sundown. It was a gracious, golden time, and I want it back."

It all used to be better, once: that too is the spirit behind Fox’s new marriage comedy, ‘Til Death (8 p.m. E.T.). Eddie (Brad Garrett, Everybody Loves Raymond), and Joy (Joely Fisher, seemingly every failed sitcom in history), are an empty-nester couple who have settled into a routine of gentle bickering and spying on their neighbors, whose idea of sweet talk is "I got a paper cut. It’s disgusting. Look at it." Their new neighbors Jeff (Eddie Kaye Thomas) and Steph (Kat Foster) are randy newlyweds crazy in love. So Eddie takes it on himself to become, a la Larry in Happy Hour, Jeff’s sensei of cynicism. However happy Jeff is, Eddie explains, it’s an illusion; a few months of marriage will beat it out of him. "Men want to have fun," Eddie explains. "Wives want to walk that fun deep into the woods and shoot it dead."

It’s a lame premise burdened with even lamer jokes. Jeff’s last name, for instance, is "Woodcock," and ‘Til Death gets more mileage out of the predictable puns than a Toyota Prius. To its credit, the show doesn’t blindly buy into Eddie’s dark philosophy; we gradually see that after all these years, he can misjudge his own wife as badly as Jeff misjudges his. In the end, on ‘Til Death, newly-married and long-married men are all idiots who are imprisoned by their wives yet can’t live without them. The only difference is that the newlyweds at least get more sex.

In one of Happy Hour’s more thoughtful moments, Larry explains that the cocktail hour is a metaphor for the transition between a bad time–say, a failed relationship–and something that promises to be better. ‘Til Death steps in and says that what’s on the other side of that transition is a lifetime of squabbling and sharing smelly bathrooms. In the worldview of Fox’s bleak comedy block, a heterosexual man’s allotment of happiness indeed seems to be about an hour, give or take, between unhappy singleness and soul-killing marriage. If that’s all he gets, he should probably spend that hour doing something other than watching these shows.