'The Odd Couple': TV Review

The Odd Couple CBS - H 2014

The Odd Couple CBS - H 2014

No telling who will watch this remake or whether it will work, but CBS is the best place for that beta test.

One uptight neat-freak who is about to be divorced moves in with his friend — a very messy and laid-back divorced guy (they clash).

As with most CBS shows, the assumption going forward should be that it will be a hit, until proven otherwise. Which is why you can’t fault the network for wanting to do a modern version of The Odd Couple, starring Matthew Perry and Thomas Lennon.

And, in a lot of ways, The Odd Couple works — though comparisons to the original will inevitably be unfavorable. And, based on 22 minutes of a pilot — the only thing critics were able to see — not fair, either.

It often takes a handful or more of episodes for a comedy to find its footing, to get its rhythm down and to expand the humor out to peripheral characters (and there are a number in The Odd Couple). So the very early stages of The Odd Couple are more of a feeling-out session, as Perry tries on Oscar Madison for size, and Lennon squeezes into Felix Unger.

Depending on what your quip of the week is about CBS and its audience demographic, you might say that those people will be intimately familiar with the show's premise: Uptight Felix is dumped by his wife and goes to live with messy (and recently divorced) Oscar. But then again, it’s 2015, and it’s conceivable that absolutely no one remembers the original, and thus the sight of Perry as a sports-radio host with an unshaven face and a super messy apartment dueling with neat-freak and prissy Felix will be shiny and new.

I don’t think the pilot screams: “Let’s watch the next 10 episodes right now,” but again, if you’re taking the long view here, then there’s room for optimism, because Perry and Lennon showed real chemistry when they were at the Television Critics Association's winter press tour in January. And there’s a fine cast in place: Yvette Nicole Brown (Community) as Dani, Oscar’s assistant; Wendell Pierce (The Wire) as Teddy, Oscar’s longtime agent and friend; guest-star Dave Foley (NewsRadio, everything) as Roy, another poker-playing, drinking, cigar-smoking friend of Oscar's; Leslie Bibb (Iron Man) as Casey, Oscar’s hot neighbor; and Lindsay Sloane (Horrible Bosses) as Emily, Casey’s more uptight sister — and thus a good match for Felix.

The pilot is mostly a quick introduction to Oscar’s messiness and how much Felix tidies up the place when he moves in temporarily, and then permanently — the cleanliness driving away Oscar’s messier friends: Teddy and Roy. “They didn’t leave — they fled,” says Oscar, “to a place called NoFelixstan.” There’s a lot of that kind of jabbing, with things picking up some as Oscar finds out Casey doesn’t want a clingy relationship, just sex (which Felix manages to foil, of course). “All she wanted was sex with no feelings — that’s my skill set!” yells Oscar. Says Felix, who is pleased when the abrasive Oscar sheds a tear: “There’s a beautiful person inside you.” Replies Oscar: “Well, I was about to be inside a beautiful person.”

Will this new Odd Couple work? Well, 22 minutes is not enough to say. (Networks really need to be more generous with episodes, especially during midseason.) If the pilot (written by Perry and co-executive producer Joe Keenan) is passable, my guess would be that the pedigree and talent involved will overcome the shortcomings and give viewers something better soon enough. There’s no reason to bet against The Odd Couple, even if you weren’t rooting for a remake.

Email: Tim.Goodman@THR.com

Twitter: @BastardMachine