“Partners" 8:30 tonight, CBS
San Francisco — David Kohan and Max Mutchnick happily confess they mined their own longtime working relationship in creating the new sitcom “Partners," premiering tonight on CBS. But if the setup seems familiar, it may have something to do with the creators’ previous sitcom, “Will & Grace."
Except for sexuality, the two lifelong friends who work together as architects in the CBS show all but replicate the relationship between Eric McCormack’s Will and Sean Hayes’ Jack in NBC’s “Will & Grace." This time around, though, we have an actual straight guy, Joe (David Krumholtz), whose patience is eternally tried by his impulsive, over-the-top longtime best friend and business partner, Louis (Michael Urie).
Toss in Sophia Bush as Joe’s fiancee, Ali, and Brandon Routh’s Wyatt, Louis’ sweet-natured, not terribly bright boyfriend, and you have the kind of four-cornered dynamic that made “Will & Grace" a hit more than a decade ago.
The pilot episode of “Partners" gives us a solid understanding of who Joe and Louis are without quite convincing us that they’ve been friends forever: The former is emotionally conservative, a bit buttoned-down, and suddenly finds himself the geeky kid who winds up with the hottest girl in school and doesn’t believe — or trust in — his luck. Louis is a romantic who feels the need to insert himself into the lives of others, usually without their consent, often screws up already bad situations, but means well.
Unfortunately, what Louis tends to meddle in most of all is Joe’s personal life. At the start of the first show, Joe isn’t sure where the relationship with Ali is going. After some coaching from Louis, he decides he should break up with her, but when he tries to, he discovers he feels something else entirely. Alas, he doesn’t have time to clue Louis in about his change of heart and things go screwball thereafter.
There are some funny lines in the pilot, but it takes until the second episode for some promising chemistry to emerge between Urie and Krumholtz.
The style of humor is as old as vaudeville: Krumholtz is the straight man in more ways than one, but his Joe gets off a few nicely deadpan lines as a counterpoint to Louis’ stream of hysteria.
With the straight-man-top-banana setup and the structural similarities to “Will & Grace," though, there’s something almost old-fashioned about “Partners," especially compared with the snark-based comedy of shows like “2 Broke Girls."
If “Partners" is to find an audience, it will do so by making us like the characters — not just find them somewhat likable and occasionally funny. We not only have to feel affection for them individually but together as well.