Four Kings

If scientists were smart, they’d stop trying to cure terminal diseases with stem cell research and gene mapping. Instead, they’d focus on the next billion dollar business — developing a treatment for male-pattern arrested adolescence. Apparently a female-resistant illness, this plague — wherein men revert to frat boy familiarity with one another and reject responsible society — is at pandemic proportions.

Exhibit A: Four Kings. Created by the team behind Will & Grace, this sour show focuses on four friends, drifting aimlessly through their post-college lives. When Ben’s (Josh Cooke) beloved grandmother dies, he inherits her swanky NYC apartment, where he gathers together his bestest buds. As he explains, there is plenty of time to grow up, but precious few years left for “playing cards at breakfast” and “watching porn.” Eventually, they’ll have wives and families.

Not that anyone besides Ben has been doing much of anything else. Stoner Bobby (Shane McRae) talks like a bad Cheech and Chong skit, focused on the munchies and the most sophomoric of supposed wit. Formerly fat Jason (Todd Grinnell) is oversensitive about his weight and wardrobe. Barry (Seth Green) is full of sour grapes, erupting at the grandmother’s funeral when he learns Ben now owns the luxury flat. And, with a hot girlfriend and a job as a tv writer that allows him unlimited free time, Ben invites his friends’ resentment.

All of this is supposed to be funny, by the way, not sad or emblematic of what’s wrong with today’s youth. We are supposed to giggle when Barry goes ballistic over Ben’s pampered place or Bobby makes a joke about the elderly smoking dope (this critic must have missed the memo that pot humor was once again funny). Some scenes go so far as appearing “sentimental,” as when flashbacks show the boys listening to the wise words of the now dead granny.

Four Kings smacks of being over-prepared and underwritten. The first episode was all anticipation and explanation. Unlike Friends, where we wondered how they could afford their digs, Four Kings gives us the entire inheritance angle. That concept has to be explained, thus we get the flashbacks. And since they all have to be single, they discuss their romantic problems in the opening set piece, subjecting us to a series of shrew scenes.

Indeed, women get the worst of it in Four Kings: they’re harpies or self-absorbed princesses. Bobby drops his doll with soggy one-liners, and Barry gets dumped by his strumpet in one of the oddest sequences of the half-hour. Seth Green, though over 30, still looks like a teenager, and when he arrives at his beloved’s door, he is greeted by her tarty tween twin daughters. They proceed to act clever beyond their years and then Mom walks in, looking like a stripper in a business suit. So many questions are raised here — the apparent age difference, the cruel kids — that we end up wondering how these two ended up together in the first place. It makes the brush-off pointless.

When it comes to Ben’s turn, Four Kings suddenly shifts into a mode more intellectual and sanctimonious. Jen (Kiele Sanchez) is supposedly the greatest gal in the world, but when she learns she’s not moving into Ben’s apartment after all, she turns into Sybil. If she wasn’t so busy brandishing some overlong sleeve extensions that make her look like a refugee from Mostly Madrigals, she might have seemed more sensible. But her moment of upset is undone by stupidity: Jen is reduced to what she calls “making chicken noises.”

While the show has little going for it, it does have Seth Green. If only Barry had been less of a nudge and more of a well-meaning curmudgeon: the actor can be marvelous, but here he’s merely good, attempting the impossible with throwaway lines like “I’m going into the alley to throw up!” The rest of the cast is boy-band bland, and since the characters are lifelong friends, the potential for conflict-based comedy seems slim.

Four Kings‘ hermetically sealed premise limits other options too. Jokes jerry-rigged out of women’s underpants, glaucoma, and a casserole consisting of macaroni, cheese, and “three different types of sausage” hardly help. Faced with the choice between living together and pursuing commitments with women, Bobby asserts, “Bros before hos.” It appears this case of arrested adolescence is already at the retardation stage.

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