Better With You -- TV Review

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"How do I look?"

So begins "Better With You," with the question phrased by three couples in the back of three taxis, all with varying durations of relationship between them. Their answers create their characters. It's something of a too-clever way to begin what in essence is a fairly standard ABC sitcom, but the mere attempt at wit underscores that this might be a bit "Better" than the average fare.

The cast is extremely chipper and bright, including Debra Messing-alike Joanna Garcia as Mia, younger sister to A-personality Maddie (Jennifer Finnigan, always better than her material calls for), and instantly likable newcomer Jake Lacy as the Joey Tribbiani-reminiscent Casey. He plays in an "avant-garde metal band with a performance art component" and who wants to marry Mia after fewer than two months together. This stuns Maddie and longtime partner Ben (the dour Josh Cooke), who long ago made a "valid life choice" not to marry, but thrills Maddie and Mia's parents (veterans Debra Jo Rupp and Kurt Fuller, coloring in expected lines).

And that, in essence, is the entire foundation on which this sitcom has decided to build its house, a slip of a thought of an idea, really.

But there is hope that "Better" might turn into a solid series: the writing is smart and patient, and dialogue wed to Casey's good-guy dopiness lands well. Casey might also be a new breed of sitcom character; by brushing aside Ben's offers of assistance and insisting he just has to be himself in front of his future in-laws, he's clearly absorbed every cliched sitcom setup already. That leaves a lot of fresh territory to be mined.

"Better" is far from perfect; making a sitcom stand out from the crowd during premiere week can take more star power than this package radiates. But it's worth giving it time to find its way. With wise fools like Casey in charge, there's no telling where this will go next.

That's a good thing.

Airdate: 8:30-9 p.m., Wednesday, Sept. 22 (ABC)
Production: Bonanza Prods. in association with Silver & Gold Prods. and Warner Bros. Television
Cast: JoAnna Garcia, Jennifer Finnigan, Josh Cooke, Jake Lacy, Kurt Fuller, Debra Jo Rupp
Creator/writer/executive producer: Shana Goldberg-Meehan
Producers: Lisa Helfrich Jackson, Peter Chakos
Director: James Burrows
Director of photography: Gary Baum
Production designer: Cabot McMullen
Costume designer: Nancy Gould
Casting: Greg Orson, Lesli Gelles