“The Butt Dial” S1 / E2
- B- Community Grade
As Todd pointed out in his review of last week’s pilot episode of Best Friends Forever, this new comedy tends to really soar when it’s allowed to coast on the seemingly effortless chemistry between its principals, Jessica (Jessica St. Clair), Lennon (Lennon Parham) and Joe (Luka Jones). Conversely, it feels unduly taxed when drama enters the fray and shoehorns the naturally funny performers—all alumni of the Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre and its renowned improv program—into moments of self-seriousness and complication. While that inherent drama is oftentimes part of the sitcom formula, it needs to remain at more of an arm’s length on BFF in order to allow this nascent program to properly stand on its well-earned comedic legs.
The premise is not a far stretch from many previous sitcoms: A young, hip New York couple live in an unbearably cute apartment and must suddenly put up with an unexpected guest in the form of the girlfriend’s kooky, newly divorced best friend. That overlap of couple-hood and best friendship is certainly new territory, though, in that it explores the shared allegiance a person can feel toward more than one very important person in his or her life. In this case, Lennon’s love of her best friend and inherent need to save her in a moment of crisis conflicts directly with her relationship and the expectations her sweet and kind boyfriend has for their new life of cohabitation.
In the second episode, an elaborate ruse takes shape based on an accidental butt dial and Jessica’s ability to cook delicious meats, like the pulled pork with which she impresses her new roommate Joe. In an instant, Lennon and Joe have hatched a plan to use their friend Ravi’s bar for a night where Jessica and her cooking can shine and thus distract her from her own sadsack-ness. By concocting the story of a fake, fancypants reviewer coming to the bar and a cook quitting last minute, Jessica is immediately charged with the task of saving the night and excitedly planning a menu. Except there’s one major complication, in the form of her newly separated husband unexpectedly arriving to try and woo Jessica back.
The night itself is full of fast-paced jokes and goofs, particularly when Lennon delivers a speech to the kitchen staff (the “Felipes”) in Spanish that lays out Jessica’s desperate situation without blowing her cover. The addition of Joe’s friend/the pretend food critic (Kyle Mooney) adds another layer of ridiculousness that culminates in learning he has some kind of strange, mutant finger no one wants near. It’s meant to showcase Joe’s helpfulness in securing his weird friend for the whole ruse but lacks the necessary exchanges between the two friends to help setup the elaborateness of it all.
The buoyancy between Lennon and Jessica is an important engine for the show, helping create a foundation for which the insanity of something like a pretend-the-food-critic-is-coming-the-bar-to-make-her-feel-happy-again ruse makes some kind of sense. It’s easy to see why the comedy comes so naturally, given the fact that it’s partially created by UCB improvisers who shape much of the show’s dialogue through improvised run-throughs. (Full disclosure: This reviewer is also an alumna of the UCBTLA.) The cadence of their friendship feels like a well-worn groove that’s hard to come by in most of television in its wholly warm and unabashed pride.
It’s unfortunate the series has become bogged down so early with major dramatic bullet points—namely that the ex, Peter, shows up and wants more from his fragile ex. It would’ve been fun to simply continue exploring the overlap between Jessica and Lennon’s friendship and Lennon and Joe’s relationship. Also, these gals clearly have a long history together—both off-screen and on—that registers as very real, even given their sometimes hyperkinetic back and forth. It feels like their unique dynamic is something worth exploring further, before all kinds of shenanigans ensue.
The series has more promise than most, especially given the comedic pedigree of its performers and writers. Hopefully Jessica, Lennon, and the rest of the writers will realize the overwhelming card up their collective sleeve and capitalize on the performers they’ve landed. There’s an ease and sincerity to Best Friends Forever that other comedies have been too afraid to showcase (or lacked entirely), along with a bold willingness to commit to a bit. It’s just a matter of tempering the melodrama and letting the glittery bits shine like they’re meant to.