The sitcom “Friends With Better Lives,” which CBS will plop into the space vacated by the departing “How I Met Your Mother,” is the very definition of place-holder television, a show that simply and amiably attempts to be halfway entertaining until something better comes along.
At first glance, it’s spooky that the show employs the now sacrosanct sitcom noun “Friends” in its title (“Yeah — no,” as Phoebe Buffay would have said) and unfortunate that the word “Better” is in there, too, because, when it comes to placating the admittedly-older-now audience of “How I Met Your Mother,” “Friends With Better Lives” isn’t better than that show or any other half-hour comedy that’s come along in the past five years or so.
But it’s also not much worse, wrapped as it is in the 100 percent market-proven cardboard humor seen in many of CBS’s sitcoms, where jokes about testicles or breast-pumping or oral sex have been specially calibrated to walk right up to someone’s line of decency but not over it. “How do you sleep with somebody by mistake?” a character wonders aloud.
“I accidentally sat on a carrot once,” another character replies.
It’s those sort of jokes, one right after the other. You don’t know if you’re watching “Two and a Half Men” or “2 Broke Girls” or “Mom” or whatever. You aren’t even really sure if you’re awake or if the TV’s still on.
Kevin Connolly (“Entourage”) and James Van Der Beek (“Don’t Trust the B---- in Apt. 23”) star as Bobby and Will, two 30-something doctors who have their own OB-GYN practice. Bobby is married to Andi (Majandra Delfino), and they just had a baby; as such, they are relegated to lame quips about being overwhelmed and under-rested, more apt to binge-watch “Homeland” than stoke the marital flame.
Van Der Beek’s character is living in Bobby and Andi’s house, having been dumped by his wife. The circle of friends extends to Jules (Brooklyn Decker), a free spirit who’s just fallen in love with an overly earnest, surfing Australian vegan restaurant owner named Lowell (Rick Donald).
That leaves Kate (Zoe Lister-Jones, last seen in “Whitney”), a walking cliche version of the single career woman whose financial success and sneering attitude repel the men she’s so desperate to attract. She’s written to be pathetic and envious, therefore the Van Der Beek character can’t resist yanking her chain. Perhaps they are fated for each other. In the meantime, he sets her up with a shorter-than-average blind date just to prove that she’s picky. While Will and Kate argue about this in the doctors’ shared office space, Connolly’s character announces: “Happily, I have a Pap smear to get to.”
Aha! That’s the title this show needs! “Pap Smear.” (Why not?)
(30 minutes) premieres Monday at 9 p.m. on CBS. Moves to its regular time slot at 8:30 p.m. on April 7.