Every bit as generic as its title, "Partners" is the latest big-name-toplined (Kelsey Grammer, Martin Lawrence) throwback, courtesy of Debmar-Mercury's 10/90 model, which predicates whether a series runs 100 episodes on the first batch meeting certain ratings benchmarks. Like "Anger Management," featuring Charlie Sheen, the show itself is practically an afterthought, inasmuch as it's designed to feel like an instant rerun -- something that can help fill the sitcom-starved syndication pipeline. But yikes, watching these two comedy veterans trying to keep such a leaky, woefully flat vehicle afloat is more depressing than nostalgic.

Grammer plays Allen Braddock, an ethics-challenged lawyer being fired from dad's influential law firm for reasons unknown as the pilot opens. Desperate for a job, he by chance encounters Marcus Jackson (Lawrence), a community activist who operates a law practice out of his basement, in a house he shares with his mother (Telma Hopkins), daughter (Daniele Watts) and for all intents and purposes, assistant ("The Book of Mormon's" Rory O'Malley).

Allen offers to assist Marcus with his divorce settlement, in exchange for a place to hang his shingle. Yet the goal of establishing them as a mismatched pair in the pilot (written and run by sitcom veterans Robert L. Boyett and Robert Horn), as well as a subsequent episode, proves stale and weakly defined from the get-go -- especially in the latter, when the two masquerade as a gay couple who want to get married on behalf of a client.

In what feels like a vague echo of "Cheers" (although any comparison should go no further), Allen's younger trophy wife goes unseen, though his teenage stepdaughter (McKaley Miller) makes periodic appearances, presumably as a demographic pander more than anything else.

Grammer, Lawrence and Hopkins have certainly been around this block, but it's just too damn hard to make any hay with lines like, "I can tell somebody's judgmental just by looking at them," or Allen's assertion that Marcus' misguided ethics are "the reason you're taking it in the assets."

Mostly, the 10/90 shows -- hitching their wagons to sitcom veterans willing to bet on themselves and cash in should they succeed -- have been birthed to fill a void. With fewer comedies breaking out on the major networks, TV stations and cable channels need product to help flesh out their lineups.

Fair enough. What remains a mystery is why the purveyors seem so committed to producing sitcoms that, other than being a trifle more risque, would have been inordinately banal back in the 1990s. By that measure, even if "Partners" passes the requisite bar to extend its run, it's not much of an asset.

 

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