Despite a number of extremely popular TV series, ABC is proceeding with the sort of reckless abandon of a third-place network. Their new fall schedule is crammed with new shows, and mere weeks away from May Sweeps network executives are still running premieres. Earlier this week, for example, ABC unveiled the newest effort from overachiever J.J. Abrams (who, in addition to cranking out “Lost” and the recently returned “Alias,” is also directing the latest installment of the Mission: Impossible series).
“What About Brian?” is a collaboration between the prolific TV creator and screenwriter Dana Stevens (City of Angels, For Love of the Game, Life or Something Like It). The show is a dramedy (TV loves that word) about a group of youngish friends navigating life and love in modern-day Los Angeles. The titular Brian (Barry Watson, “7th Heaven”) is a likable guy who finds himself the self-described “seventh wheel” in a small group of friends. Six of these young urban professionals are coupled up, leaving Brian as the perennial tagalong.
In the pilot, Brian makes a disastrous attempt to hook up with a girl he met thanks to a car accident (Amy Jo Johnson, dropping by briefly to answer the question, “Mighty Morphin Power Rangers” what have you done for us lately?). For his efforts to stick it out with this psycho, he was branded a “serial monogamist.” Leave it to his best friend's girlfriend Marjorie (Sarah Lancaster from “Everwood”) to lay it all out, however. Brian is a hopeless romantic. He's just got to figure out who the perfect girl for him is. Unfortunately, taking his cue from an old Cars song, Brian decides he's in love with his best friend's girlfriend. This little triangle becomes even more complicated when the best friend in question decides to--instead of dumping Marjorie as planned--propose marriage. Now poor Brian is in love with his best friend's fiancée.
This sort of serialized romance can be tricky. It revolves around the weekly ability to keep our two would-be lovers apart. But “What About Brian?” seems to have a bit more going for it, starting with the topnotch writing. The scripts are witty and smart and filled with hilarious dialogue. There is a slight worry that, like Abrams' other efforts, this one may prove smarter than the audience. Viewers flipping around the dial looking for “Two and a Half Men” aren't likely to be tempted.
Unlike other would-be “thirtysomething” comedies (“Four Kings,” I'm looking at you), “What About Brian?” has assembled an instantly likable cast of characters. Roseanna Arquette (Desperately Seeking Susan), Matthew Davis (Blue Crush), Amanda Detmer (Big Fat Liar) and Rick Gomez (Endless Mike from “The Adventures of Pete & Pete”!) all contribute characters worth exploring.
The strength of this show remains to be seen in the long run. But as long as Abrams and his team can avoid the sort of experimental tinkering that often marred “Alias,” “Brian?” has got a solid chance of being one of the best new shows on TV.