Here's a handy tip for would-be sitcom writers: Don't make us hate your main characters before we even get to the opening credits.
That's the dubious and pretty much sole accomplishment achieved by NBC's Best Friends Forever
(Wednesday, 8:30 p.m. ET/PT; * out of four), an atrocious sitcom that can only be understood as a threadbare network's attempt to empty its larder before the fall restocking. Fine, but did it have to dump the refuse on us?
The opening in question is built around a video chat between best friends Lennon (Lennon Parham) and Jessica (Jessica St. Clair), who discuss the state of Jessica's vaginal grooming while Lennon's lumpen live-in boyfriend, Joe (Luka Jones), chimes in. Suddenly, Jessica starts screaming that her husband has had her served with divorce papers.
And sight unseen, that husband instantly becomes the show's only sympathetic character.
It's the kind of witless, clumsy — and these days, far too familiar — scene that makes you feel sorry for the actors involved. Sorry, that is, until you discover that Parham and St. Clair wrote these characters for, and named them after, themselves. At least it spares us that usual sitcom debate over who deserves the blame, the stars or the writers.
So Jessica moves back to New York and back in with Lennon — and immediately begins trying to push Joe out of the way. She alters his plans for "Lazy Sunday," destroys his big surprise, mocks his naked body and generally comes across as selfish and insufferable.
That can be an amusing comic stance when done on purpose (think of such classic "bad" best friends as Howard on The Bob Newhart Show and Kramer on Seinfeld), but nothing in the writing or in St. Clair's performance gives you the impression that the stance is intentional.
Parham fares better, and there are times you can almost see the bones of a workable sitcom that would focus on her and Jones' characters alone. But that sitcom isn't Best Friends Forever.
Can this really be how women today want to be seen on television? Like 2 Broke Girls, Friends seems to be trying to counter every penis joke on the air with an equal and opposite vagina joke, a goal that — even if you find it commendable — is ultimately self-defeating. And while this may shock the writers on both sides of the sexual divide, simply naming the male and female sexual organs is not in and of itself funny, unless you're 10 years old and it's the first time you've ever said the words in public.
Yet it's not just the vulgarity. (HBO's upcoming Girls is far more explicit, and still is the best new sitcom of the season.) It's the laziness of it all.
Actually, Parham and St. Clair, who say they improvised the scripts into a recorder or over the phone, can take that as Tip 2: Work harder.
Preferably on something else.