Although most critics will doubtlessly discuss it as a negative, I prefer to see a good side and a bad side to having your main character be nearly raped by a primate fewer than five minutes into your pilot, as occurs in FOX's new comedy "Unhitched."
On the bright side, near simian-on-man violation pretty well throws down the gauntlet with as much audacity as his humanly possible. "Unhitched" is created by the Farrelly Brothers, who are no strangers to envelope-edge pushing. So when an unevolved orangutan attempts to get amorous with slightly-more-evolved Gator (Craig Bierko) before the credits roll in "Unhitched," it's obviously the Farrelly Brothers' way of saying, "Yes, we're willing to go there. If you're not, perhaps you want to change the channel right now and you won't even have wasted that much time."
But there's a problem, too. If you go to such an extreme in the first five minutes of your comedy series, viewers who actually respond positively to your gambit will be expecting that it isn't an isolated bit of risk-taking. One of the great disappointments of "Unhitched" is that it lacks the courage of its convictions and nothing in the rest of the pilot or the second episode sent to critics rises to that level of audacity.
Monkey rape and shrimp-shaped skin tags aside, "Unhitched" is really nothing more than another "Seinfeld" clone. The premise is really cookie-cutter sitcom stuff: Trying-to-divorce Gator and his three best friends -- frequently divorced Tommy (Johnny Sneed), recently divorced Dr. Freddy (Shaun Majumder) and newly single Kate (Rashida Jones) -- are back on the dating scene and discovering that things have changed since they were last on the market. The underpinnings are even more "Seinfeld"-ian -- the main characters are shocked and disgusted by the fish swimming in the dating pool, with the unspoken joke being that these four are every bit as romantically unsuitable as the potential partners they shun.
Nothing in the way the main characters interact with each other speaks to any sort of believable or enduring friendship, much less equal footing within the show. Bierko and Jones are the obviously leads, with Sneed just playing a live-action version of "Family Guy" boor Quagmire and Majumder just embodying a humiliating assortment of ethnic stereotypes that are less offensive than creatively lazy.
Bierko combines leading man looks with a smile that wreaks of insincerity and throughout his career the question has never been why he gets work -- he's both likeable and funny, plus he made a great Max Baer in "Cinderella Man" -- but why he doesn't get better work. The same is also true of Jones, who's stuck playing that familiar standby character of the way-too-cool hot girl who needs to be constantly humiliated. Jones seems both too young for this group of friends and too ideal for the weekly string of disappointments the writers want to stick her with.
FOX's difficulties launching live action comedies have been well documented and "Unhitched" is similar to "The Winner" in its attempts to mine an everything-but-the-drawings animated sensibility. Want to know the sad thing? "The Winner" was a funnier show. I still expect "Unhitched" to meet a similar fate -- a quick burn-off and a ripple-free disappearance.