It's been so long since NBC's Thursday night lineup held cultural significance that it's hard to even recall a time when there was a “Must See TV.” Basically, since “Seinfeld” went off the air 7 years ago, NBC has struggled to maintain its Thursday night sitcom block. From “Good Morning Miami” to “Coupling” to (most recently) “Joey,” NBC's Thursday night lineup has proved itself more sitcom killer than ratings winner.
Recently, NBC made a bold move, transferring two well-established sitcoms (“My Name is Earl” and “The Office”) into the slot occasionally occupied by Donald Trump's increasingly pointless “The Apprentice.” (Kudos all around for that move, I say.) With “Joey” bumped from the schedule, that left only one empty slot. With midseason upon us, NBC has plugged that hole with “Four Kings,” a new sitcom from the creators of “Will & Grace,” David Kohan and Max Mutchnick.
To my mind, “Will & Grace” has been an “always good, never great” series (at least until producers started relying on asinine slapstick-slathered “live” sitcom stunts). The same can be said of “Four Kings”: Serviceable but not stellar.
The show features four slightly immature New York pals, Ben (Josh Cooke), Barry (Seth Green), Jason (Todd Grinnell) and Bobby (Shane McRae). Aside from Green (Austin Powers, “Buffy the Vampire Slayer”), few of the other castmembers have much of a résumé. (Though Cooke, inauspiciously enough, did headline last season's failed “Must See TV” sitcom “Committed.”) Each of the boys is given just enough of a personality to differentiate him from his pals. Ben is the uptight guy, Barry is the wiseass, Jason is the jock and Bobby is the stoner.
The show's simple premise is simply this: Ben's grandmother dies, leaving him her spacious, rent-free Manhattan apartment. Naturally, his three pals move in and they all hang out together. It's no coincidence that that's pretty much the exact same premise as “Friends.” “Four Kings” does its best to invoke that sacred, 233-episode-long vibe--albeit with a larger dose of testosterone.
Good-natured and reliant on the cast's marginal chemistry, “Four Kings” manages to milk a few well-earned laughs out of each half hour of “boys will be boys” jocularity. If only the show had more spark in casting or in plotting. Green is the most exciting part of the show, and he's only one among a nice, but rather colorless, ensemble. Storylines are generic. Secondary characters are nonexistent. (Barry's bitchy ex-girlfriend seems to be the only other person in this universe.) Shouldn't (like “Joey” before it) most of these issues have been worked out before the show went on the air? Two episodes in and the show already looks like a candidate for overhauling and recasting.
The one thing “Four Kings” has got going for it is potential. It could be funny. It could be great. It could be Must See TV. But it had better get on the ball before NBC swings its ax once again and creates another Thursday night hole.