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Welcome once again to our annual "first look" at the broadcast networks' offerings for the 2011-2012 season, now in its sixth year! Each day we'll walk you through one of the new series set to premiere next season (or one that didn't make the cut) and go over our initial impressions after viewing the pilot. Keep in mind that a lot can change from what's being screened right now - recasting, reshooting, etc. - but we still want to give you a heads up on what you should (and shouldn't) keep on your radar in the coming months. So enough of our rambling, on with the show!
[IMPORTANT NOTE: The following is based on the original sales presentation which was screened to us privately or supplied by a third party NOT an informational, not-for-review screener provided by the network in question.]
HOW TO BE A GENTLEMAN (CBS)
(written by David Hornsby; directed by Pamela Fryman; TRT: 20:51)
The network's description: "HOW TO BE A GENTLEMAN, inspired by the book of the same name, is a comedy about the unlikely friendship between a traditional, refined writer and an unrefined personal trainer. Andrew Carlson (David Hornsby) is an etiquette columnist whose devotion to ideals from a more civilized time has lead to a life detached from modern society. Infectiously optimistic, Bert Lansing (Kevin Dillon) is a reformed "bad boy" from Andrew's past who inherited a fitness center, but can still be rude, loud and sloppy. When Andrew's editor, Jerry (Dave Foley), tells him to put a modern, sexy twist on his column or be fired, he hires Bert as a life coach in the hopes of learning to be less "gentle man" and more "real man." Andrew's mom, Diane (Nancy Lenehan), and his bossy sister, Janet (Mary Lynn Rajskub), support the plan, as would Janet's husband, Mike (Rhys Darby), if he was allowed to have an opinion. Though Andrew and Bert's views may be centuries apart, they may find they're each other's missing link. David Hornsby ("It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia"), Adam Chase ("Friends"), Ted Schachter ("The Invention of Lying"), Joe Hipps and Modi Wiczyk are executive producers for CBS Television Studios."
What did they leave out? John Bridges is the author of the aforementioned book.
The plot in a nutshell: "I am one of the last of my kind," gentleman Andrew Carlson (David Hornsby) proclaims in the opening narration. And while being one has its own rewards, guaranteed employment isn't one of them. Such is the case when Andrew learns the magazine he provides his "How to Be a Gentleman" advice too is being reinvented as a Maxim knock-off. "They want to expand their readership by targeting people who don't read," his too-old-to-put-up-a-fuss editor Jerry (Dave Foley) quips. And so Andrew is tasked with having to reinvent his column to match the new format, on his birthday no less. Thankfully inspiration arrives in the form of a gift: a training session at a gym from his overbearing sister Janet (Mary Lynn Rajskub) and her hen-pecked husband Mike (a delightfully silly Rhys Darby).
Much to Andrew's surprise is his trainer: Bert Lansing (Kevin Dillon, picking up where Johnny Drama left off), one of his childhood tormentors. He's taken over his dad's gym where he plans to offer the full "mind, body and spirit" experience... "also tanning." And while Andrew at first resists, he ultimately sees Bert as an anthropological study for his revamped column. Soon enough, Andrew finds himself being dragged to strip clubs in the middle of the day, burning the last remnant of his previous relationship and asking out Lydia (Abigail Spencer), his attractive neighbor. Ultimately, it may prove to be an education he needs. As Bert aptly puts, "You know everything about being a gentleman but nothing about being a man."
What works: Hornsby and Dillon make an amusing enough comic team as the central hook - finicky teacher becomes meathead's student - seems ripe with potential. The former fits Andrew's personality like a glove (Janet: "You're fussy, you talk weird and you dress like a ship captain." Andrew: "Oh, is this my birthday present from you? Because you gave me a huge basket of bitchiness last year.") while Dillon is Dillon, managing at one point to work the phrases "cancer of the penis" and "church jeans" into the same conversation. The bulk of the laughs though come from Darby's Mike, both in their randomness ("My uncle had a brass eyeball. He kept it under a patch. It was all legit... peek-a-boo was quite traumatic.") and silliness ("I had quite a night: two positions and a kiss.").
What doesn't: The pilot kind of veers off the tracks in its closing act as Andrew's date with Lydia takes some only-on-TV turns to give him prime fodder for his column, not to mention improbably intersect with Janet and Mike's foibles. It would also be nice if Andrew and Bert's interactions weren't so obvious at times (Andrew, on Lydia: "I kill many of her bugs." Bert: "You should be taking off many of her pants.") as there's the sense it could aim much higher. It's all more or less forgivable stuff as "Gentleman"...
The bottom line: ...could prove to be a fun way to spend a half hour.