TV review: MTV’s ‘I Just Want My Pants Back’ captures the 20-something life

February 1, 2012

Adults with kids have “Modern Family”; the early-30s crowd gets “How I Met Your Mother” and the like. But unless drunken nights on the Jersey Shore are the norm for more people than anyone realizes, series with characters in their 20s don’t really come close to resembling reality.

However, MTV’s new scripted comedy “I Just Want My Pants Back,” premiering Thursday night, gets extremely near the mark. Buoyed by genuinely funny writing and talented young actors, the show takes an unexpectedly realistic approach that taps into the panic, disillusionment, thrill and fear that arrive with the confounding post-college years.

Based on David J. Rosen’s 2007 novel of the same name — about the adventures of a recent Cornell grad grappling with the real world — “I Just Want My Pants Back” focuses on a group of friends in hipster-centric Brooklyn dealing with the same issues. The main issue being — as it always seems to be — sex.

The series gets its name and premise from an ill-fated one-night stand, as Jason (Peter Vack) escapes his dull day job by going out and drinking with friends. One fateful outing leads him to Jane, a sarcastic, mysterious girl who has no problem meeting a guy and having sex in his refrigerator moments later.

“What if you’re scamming me so you can steal my Discover card in the middle of the night? What if you’re really, like, a sexy transsexual?” Jason asks breathlessly.

“I’m all girl, and no one takes Discover. You’re safe,” Jane tells him.

Anyway, she steals Jason’s pants the next morning and leaves a fake phone number.

Thus begins Jason’s quest to find her and his pants, though there will be many distractions during the journey. Obviously, the incident must be dissected by Jason and his core group, mostly by his promiscuous, fast-talking best friend — and probably soul mate — Tina (Kim Shaw, the show’s standout). They’re joined by college pals Eric (Jordan Carlos), an aspiring doctor, and Stacey (Elisabeth Hower), a grad student, who are trying to transition their college relationship into the real world.

For all the familiarity of the situations — potential flings not calling back, the first annoying friend to get married, staying motivated despite a dead-end job — the show still represents an ideal millennial setup. The characters live in a gauzy Brooklyn where friends are always up for an ad­ven­ture, the futon-filled apartments are a little too nice, and, in the third episode, the biggest problem is whether to go to James Franco’s ravioli party. (Sadly, Franco does not make an appearance in the show.)

Still, the enjoyable script goes at a dizzying pace, retorts and one-liners flying in every direction; by the time you absorb one joke, they’re on to the next. And no one can quite keep up with Shaw (maybe best known for playing the prostitute who wrecked the Florricks’ marriage on “The Good Wife”), particularly during an entertaining fight with a loser guy who proclaims her “more of a ‘late night text’ kind of girl than an ‘introduce to your friends’ kind of girl.”

In between, the show tackles the fate of recent grads who land a first job and are dismayed to learn that they are simply glorified receptionists. Jason suffers through boredom at a casting agency (Chris Parnell plays his evil boss), while Eric realizes during his first night at a hospital that he is basically a “human janitor.”

Though MTV is famous for its “reality” fare (“Jersey Shore” is the lead-in to “Pants”), the network has been upping its scripted-series game, such as with the delightful high school dramedy “Awkward.” This new comedy manages to deftly capture the 20-something life. Even the clunky title, in a way, makes sense. Twenty-somethings want love and security and consistency, but as this show notes, at the end of the day, sometimes, they would be happy if they just got their pants back.

I Just Want My Pants Back

(one hour; regularly 30 minutes) debuts Thursday at 11 p.m. on MTV.

Emily Yahr covers pop culture and entertainment for the Post. Follow her on Twitter @EmilyYahr.
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