Tuned In

"The Class" and Grade Inflation

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The consensus among TV critics is that this is an unusually strong new season of shows. A good half of the fall’s new shows are potential keepers, with attention-getting premises and cinematic looks. Spurred by challenging hits like Lost and itching for their debuts to
get attention, the networks have fallen back on their most desperate,
last-resort measure: quality.

Of course it’s one thing to get critics to agree it’s a season of high-quality shows. It’s another matter to get them to agree which shows those are. In this week’s issue of Time I single out five new dramas, and there were a few others that could well have made the cut (including CBS’ nuclear-apocalypse drama Jericho and Fox’s brilliantly cynical law drama Justice). It’s been a weaker year for sitcoms, but there are a couple top prospects, ABC’s The Knights of Prosperity and NBC’s 30 Rock.

There are a few cases where I think my fellow critics have gotten carried away, though, and two of these shows debut tonight. I won’t repeat my takedown of Aaron Sorkin’s overrated, scintillating-but-sanctimonious Studio 60 (which you can read in the same article that praises 30 Rock, also about the behind-the-scenes of a sketch-comedy show).

The other is CBS’s The Class, which like Studio 60 may have given reviewers a case of pedigree-itis. It comes from the makers of Friends, and it seems to indicate that they haven’t had an original idea since. Here again, is a group of whitebread late-20somethings, reunited when one of them throws a party for the members of the third grade class where he and his fiancee met. The fiancee dumps him, but the other classmates begin a new set of relationships. In the three episodes CBS sent, almost none of them shows signs of becoming an actual person rather than a high-concept joke: not the introverted nebbish who repeatedly tries to kill himself (hi-larious!), not the requisite Goth-y sarcastic girl, not the woman with the flamboyant, obviously closeted husband, a joke that would have been considered sophisticated in 1994, when the character was probably rejected for the original Friends pilot.

CBS already has a Friends rip-off: The Class’ timeslot-mate How I Met Your Mother, which nonetheless has fully developed characters and a voice of its own. I’ll be TiVoing that tonight to learn what happened after Ted and Robin’s hookup and Marshall and Lily’s breakup, but The Class? Dismissed!