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I did something watching this week’s Partners that I never thought I would: I laughed.
It appears that the freshman sitcom about a straight man and his gay best friend may find a comfortable rhythm despite its considerable limitations.
It’s interesting that this is the best episode so far, and the show’s creators – Will & Grace creators David Kohan and Matt Mutchnick – weren’t involved in the writing. And even though the show’s still saddled with some highly questionable debits, “The Jeter Exception” was a surprisingly enjoyable watch.
The plot centers on Joe (David Krumholtz), who is finally moving in with his fiancée, Ali (Sophia Bush). The episode opens with Joe clearing out some space with his best friend, Louis (Michael Urie). There’s a lame “gays are fabulous” quip when Louis refers to the clear out as “pruning” and Joe bristles at the fancy word, accusing Louis of making the simple act of cleaning out a close a “gay event.”
During the clean up, Joe and Louis come upon a box marked “Ali Personal.” So of course, Louis wants to open, imagining all sorts of interesting things, like a spy kit (because who doesn’t keep a spy kit in his/her moving box, marked “personal”?). Joe being the voice of reason on Partners unless it helps the plot when he’s not, refuses, insisting that opening the box would be a gross violation of Ali’s privacy. Louis then comes up with a neat idea: what if the box “falls” while Joe’s snipping the air with a pair of scissors?
Of course we all know that Joe’s gonna break into that box. Unfortunately, the level of sophistication for a show like Partners runs a shade below Three’s Company, and each step is seemingly predictable even in an above-average episode like “The Jeter Exception.” So Joe opens the box and discovers a picture of Ali at a poolside, hanging with New York Yankees shortstop, Derek Jeter. Completely wracked with insecurity at the thought of Ali bedding Jeter, he confides in Louis his discomfort. Louis suggests Joe talk to Ali, but of course he can’t – remember, Ali’s box was marked “personal.” So this is where the plot turns a bit weird and convoluted: to get Ali to admit her fling with Jeter, the gang will get together a play Celebrity – a charades-like game, where people have to act out a celebrity – I know, I’ve never heard of it, either. Oh, and Louis is strangely hyper-competitive when it comes to Celebrity, berating his teammates, rendering the game unfun.
So that night, Ali, Joe, Louis, and Louis’ hunky but completely milquetoast nurse boyfriend, Wyatt (Brandon Routh) meet to play the game. Before they start, Louis runs to the bathroom; while he’s gone, Wyatt admits to his friends that he hates celebrity because a) being raised a Mennonite, he wasn’t allowed to watch television, so he doesn’t know who any of the celebs are and b) Louis becomes a maniac at the game. Joe convinces him and Ali that Celebrity is a fun game. Louis comes back, fully pumped to beat the opposing team, bullying poor Wyatt. Unfortunately, the game doesn’t go well – Wyatt gets “Derek Jeter” and he has no idea who the guy is, aside from being Ali’s hookup – it all spills out and Ali and Joe get into a fight, as Louis and Wyatt take leave.
Ali confronts Joe and the two have an understanding – he even tries to one-up Ali with his own tale of bedding a local TV weatherlady. Obviously, Ali has the upper hand. Joe then proceeds to be the bigger guy and says all is well and that this episode will be referred to as the “Jeter Exception,” to which Ali asks if she can have a “Timberlake Exception” as well. That’s right, folks – our Ali’s not only bonked a Major League baseball player, but she also schtupped pop star and SNL MVP, Justin Timberlake. Joe is not fine with that, but he accepts and they move on.
The next day they play Celebrity again – and again, I wonder who would want to play such a dumb game. Ali and Louis are on one team, and Joe and Wyatt are on another – and without Louis’ constant haranguing, Wyatt does already – of course they’re no match for Ali and Louis, who go through their clues like masters, until Ali gets to “Justin Timberlake,” and her clue is “the other celebrity I slept with.” Louis squirms not knowing the answer, begging for another clue, which Ali won’t give. Acting like it’s waterboarding he’s begging Ali for another clue, but she’s unrelenting, casually remarking that they’ll have to lose the game – this is too much for Louis, who quickly shouts out Timberlake’s name, confirming Ali’s suspicions that Joe lied to her and told Louis about her tryst with the former Mouskateer.
And we’re back to the theme of Joe and Louis having an unhealthy, codependant relationship. This theme was mined to death on Will & Grace with the titular characters unable to maintain healthy relationships because of their inappropriately close friendship. Except when Ali comes back home after a long walk, she’s fine with Joe and Louis – she understands that they’re close and she knows she has to live with that. Before retreating to bed, Joe promises that he’ll keep things private between the two of them, but she doesn’t believe them, and on cue, she draws the blinds and Wyatt and Louis are standing outside the window, listening in.
So, there you have it – Partners has finally started shaping up to be a watchable show. There’s still a lot that needs to be “pruned” – the gay jokes feel a bit hermetically sealed; the show relies to heavily on 90s sitcom tropes and cannot seem to transcend them; Routh needs to be cut loose – he’s really boring and not much of a comedian. But Krumholtz is very good, and Urie’s finally finding some kind of balance – he’s not a subtle actor, but the nervous edge has eased off a bit. “The Jeter Exception” boasts some sharp writing that gives Urie ample opportunity to show off his estimable skills. The show’s still not on par with Parks and Recreation, or even the haggard The Office (which found itself briefly back to form on an excellent episode last week), but if it continues to grow, there may be hope yet.