What about Brian (Barry Watson)? He’s good-looking dynamo in the sack. He’s got a great job, a winning personality, and a loving circle of supportive friends and family. So why can’t he get a girl?
This question is the focus of ABC’s new dramedy What About Brian. Really, the problem isn’t that Brian can’t get a girl, it’s that Brian can’t hold on to a girl for more than a couple of days. Brian has the relational skills of a fifth grader, just slightly more advanced than passing notes on the playground. Good lucks and charm may get a girl to go home with you, the series suggests, but they aren’t enough to convince her to stay.
Brian is the latest in a growing television cohort of endearing young professional men whose love lives are complicated by their well-meaning but meddlesome friends or family (think Ted on How I Met Your Mother, Ben on Out of Practice, and Jake on Jake in Progress). For Brian, the problem isn’t a lack of sex — he beds three different women in the first two episodes — but a lack of emotional commitment. He pines for the one woman he can’t have, his best friend’s fiancée, and rejects the women he can.
The show’s title voices Brian’s coupled friends’ concern. He’s ever the odd man out. And they try to help by ridicule, blind dates, spying, and lectures, the majority of which Brian wisely ignores.
A more appropriate title for the show might be What is Wrong with Brian’s Friends? Their needling seems counterproductive, and besides, each has enough problems that none needs to be offering advice to anyone. Sister Nic (Rosanna Arquette) miscarries in the premiere episode, and, at her age, it’s unlikely she’ll be able to get pregnant again. Best friend Adam (Matthew Davis) can’t decide if he wants to marry Marjorie (Sarah Lancaster) or if they should move in together or much of anything else. And business partner Dave (Rick Gomez) is trying to get back into a “pick-up artist” frame of mind after his wife announced they should have an open marriage.
The fact that Brian repeatedly turns to these people for advice and feedback suggests yet another title, Why is Brian Such a Putz?. It’s hard to feel sympathy for a man who gets annoyed at his friends’ meddling when he’s so eager to share every detail with them; he submits each occurrence and thought to the gang for review and commentary, then resents their critical responses.
In the first episode, he revealed as well that he’s limited in his own thinking about romance. Early on, he formed a brief relationship with a woman he met when he hits her car with his. But it was plainly doomed, as he spent most of his time running around behind her back, trying to lure Marjorie away from Adam. In response, Marjorie set Brian up with her friend Lisa (Lisa Pepper). By the second episode, Brian had gotten Lisa into bed; however, he blew the relationship after bedding her roommate, also named Lisa (Judy Tylor), who walked in on Brian while he was showering. Plagued by guilt over betraying her roommate, Lisa 2 quickly killed Brian’s hopes for a future with her.
Nevertheless, it’s clear that we are supposed to like Brian because he’s cool, despite his illogical and unchivalrous behavior. In fact, every aspect of the series screams “hip and trendy,” from the guitar-driven ballads that play in the background to the graffitied offices where Brian and Dave run their video game company.
More telling — and mystifying — is the code with which the characters speak. Like many longtime friends, Brian and his buds have their own language. However, these slang terms only underline their perpetual adolescence. We learn that “Trishing,” named after Brian’s fifth-grade girlfriend, means dating a girl you don’t really like; “two in 24” is scoring with two women in a 24-hour period; and a “serial monogamist” is a guy who strings a girl along, then goes psycho on her. The problem with the efficiency of this code is that viewers aren’t in on the meanings, so most terms need several minutes spent explaining their meaning and history. Invariably, this drags the show down to a crawl. While the use of such terms may help define the friendships, viewers would be better served if the characters just said what they meant. That said, it’s worse without the exposition. At one point, a frustrated Marjorie screamed at Brian, “Don’t Brian me!” I have no idea what that means.
The best title for the series might be What is Brian’s Series Supposed to Be?. ABC is touting it as a dramedy, but the comic bits aren’t funny, the drama isn’t moving, the “banter” is neither witty nor amusing, and the plot just seems cluttered. Not only is Adam worried about Marjorie, he’s also struggling to make partner at his law firm, while Dave is irritated, Nic is mourning, and the car-wreck girlfriend has kicked Brian out of his own apartment. We’re supposed to care about all of this before we even know some of their names. These are all good storylines, but their speedy unrolling gives us no chance to appreciate either the turmoil or attempted humor. All of which begs the question, what about What About Brian makes it worth watching?