Thursday, February 10, 2011

The Traffic Light is Green

      I don't know why I liked FOX's new sitcom Traffic Light so much. It wasn't particularly groundbreaking or original, the cast isn't packed with actors I already love, and it's a sitcom on FOX, a network not particularly known for their half hour situation comedy, all of which are strikes against it. Yet, first with Raising Hope, and now with Traffic Light, FOX is venturing successfully into sitcom territory. I guess the biggest draws of TL are that the characters are authentic and relatable, and the jokes are still funny. Which is really all you can ask for in a sitcom.

     The premise is three couples (well, two couples, and one perpetually single guy) are at different stages of their lives, a theme this year, as we've so recently seen on ABC's Better With You and NBC's Perfect Couples. CBS: your turn, but do it with older people. Then CW can do one with teens! Just kidding. Please don't. For some reason, though, all three series have staked their own territory, and can comfortably coexist. That's quite a feat.

     Traffic Light's central cast are represented by the three colors on a traffic light, as shown explicitly near the end of "Pilot", in case you didn't get the subtle reference. Red light Mike (David Denman, The Office) and Lisa (Liza Lapira, Dollhouse, NCIS) have been married for six years, but Mike would rather hide down the block in his car watching a movie then go home and help his wife with their child. Yellow light Adam (Nelson Franklin, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World) has just moved in with Callie (Aya Cash), and both are sneaking around for time away from each other. Green light Ethan (Kris Marshall, My Family, Love Actually) is happy to womanize, though a misunderstanding with Callie in the pilot sends his recent ex, Sherry (Mercedes Masöhn) back into his arms. Masöhn is not listed among the main cast, so we'll see how long she lasts. My guess? One more week, tops.

     That character description did reveal the weakness of the show, that makes it seem dated and not so well written, when examined too closely. Mike, Adam, and Callie all are willing to lie and trick their partners in order to get alone time. This is not the basis of a healthy relationship! Callie's lie was mostly done off screen, so what is shown is three male friends who think it's a total drag to be around controlling, nagging women. As a happily married man, I'm against this image, though I didn't even notice it until my wife pointed it out. Which is why the series has gotten away with it thus far. However, should it continue a couple of seasons, it's an element that needs to be toned down or abandoned. 
     Women-hating aside, I was amused for most of the half hour, though I can't remember many specific jokes. It's the heart that allows Traffic Light to be enjoyable. Lisa overlooks Mike's flaws, as she genuinely loves him. Mike puts Adam above Lisa as he dresses in a clown getup to help save Adam's job, so there is real affection between friends, too. Mostly, it's these personal connections that make the show. Which led to the unexpectedly sad twist in the final moments, which I won't spoil, that elevated the show from pretty good to a much higher, solid good.

     Based on the mostly positive reviews I've been seeing, I'm guessing that the decent pilot won't even be as good as coming weeks. Traffic Light airs Tuesday nights at 9:30 p.m. on FOX.

Article first published as TV Review: The Traffic Light is Green on Blogcritics.

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