Sometimes when TV critics receive screeners of episodes for review, the episodes are not finished. The sound may not be mixed just right, visual effects may be incomplete or an establishing shot -- an exterior image of a building where the action takes place -- is missing with the word "stock" on screen as a placeholder.
An episode of "Partners" (8:30 Monday, KDKA-TV) CBS made available for review was interspersed with shots labeled "stock" where establishing shots will be placed prior to the show's premiere tonight. But the "stock" material in "Partners" isn't limited to missing B-roll footage on critics' screeners: This comedy is full of stock jokes, stock characters and even a stock premise.
"Partners" isn't the worst new sitcom of the season -- NBC's "Guys With Kids" earned that title hands down -- but it is disappointing.
Created by the team responsible for getting "Will & Grace" on the air, executive producers Max Mutchnick and David Kohan, "Partners" swipes the premise, setting, careers and title from the superior 1995-96 Fox series, also called "Partners." Both shows focus on best friends who work as architects and how their relationship must adapt when one of the two guys gets engaged.
Setting aside that lack of originality -- TV shows get copied all the time -- the problem with the new "Partners" is its jokes are predictable, stale and too often fall flat in tonight's premiere.
Michael Urie ("Ugly Betty") gives it his all as Louis, gay best friend and co-worker to fellow architect Joe (David Krumholtz). Louis is the outrageous one; Joe is more buttoned-down. They've been friends since grade school, but Joe's engagement to Ali (Sophia Bush, "One Tree Hill") threatens to upset their dynamic as Louis gets overly involved in the couple's relationship.
"You don't think, you just vomit whatever's in your head," Joe complains. "You're a mental bulimic."
It doesn't take much effort to imagine Will on "Will & Grace" saying that same line to Jack (Sean Hayes), and, really, this relationship is pretty much the same as that one was. Joe is the straight man (in this case, literally and figuratively); Louis is the clown.
Mr. Urie, as "Ugly Betty" viewers know, is quite adept at playing over-the-top characters, and he brings the same gusto and verve to this role. But so much of "Partners'" humor relies on tired stereotypes that make the show feel dated.
And it's not just gay stereotypes. The guys have a Latina assistant, RoRo (Tracy Wilar), and Hispanic jokes fly freely, too.
"May I just say, RoRo, the way you're presenting your bosom this morning is sure to make Ricardo the envy of every shark at the rumble," Louis snarks.
"And may I just say, joke, joke, joke, gay, gay, gay, I will cut you," she replies.
A second episode CBS made available for review showed some slight improvement -- a couple of lines of dialogue were laugh-out-loud funny -- but the episode does that annoying thing so many new shows do in the second episode: It repeats the plot from the pilot with Louis once again sticking his nose where it doesn't belong in Joe's business.
The second episode also offers a glimpse at how producers plan to deal with actor Brandon Routh ("Superman Returns"), who plays Louis' boyfriend, Wyatt, without much ability for comic timing: They're making his blank, expressionless performance a character trait that's played for laughs.
Sometimes when actors give you lemons, all a writer can do is make lemonade.
TV writer Rob Owen: email@example.com or 412-263-2582. Read the Tuned In Journal blog at post-gazette.com/tv. Follow RobOwenTV on Twitter or Facebook. Attend a TV 101 PGU panel discussion of the TV business next week; details at http://old.post-gazette.com/PGU.