Watching TV is like dating. Do it long enough and you hook up with people you could swear you have already encountered, somewhere in your hazy, regret-filled past. So it is with Coupling (Thursdays, 9:30 p.m. E.T.), an NBC Must-See-TV-night sitcom about six urban singles, of a certain well-heeled Pottery Barnitude, who drop double entendres and have slept with one another in various combinations. Nice to meet you, Ross--I mean Steve!
Coupling is a remake of a British sex-com replayed often on BBC America; the British series is one of those exports that have developed an exaggerated reputation among a certain set mostly because it's hard to get here, like Marmite. In its BBC version, it's Friends with Sex and the City raunch and Seinfeld cynicism. NBC bought it and put it through the Homogenomatic 3000, hiring a perky cast, cutting the nastier edges. The sanitized-for-America's-protection version has still generated a lot of attention for, among other lines, an allusion to shaving a tender part of the anatomy.
But it would be a mistake to avoid Coupling out of prudishness. There are far better reasons to avoid it. If watching TV is like dating, then to maintain a relationship a set of characters has to be lovable or irresistibly maddening. Coupling's six are just Friends' characters taken to obnoxious extremes. The three women are, respectively, bitchy, desperate and crazy, but what saves the show from misogyny is that the men, in turn, are selfish, preening and pathetic.
Such a buffet of contemptibility can work--see Curb Your Enthusiasm--with a good, mature cast. Coupling's, like so many post-Friends ensembles, is just smirky thirtysomething kids with $100 haircuts. The show does have a touch for madcap-farce plots based on lies and miscommunications, even if they're a bit farfetched. (The pilot, for instance, requires that you believe the stalls in a women's bathroom are soundproof.) At times you see, as on a disappointing date, the sophisticated adult Coupling could have become. Instead, it sidles up to us in its pleated Dockers, asking lamely, "Do you come here often?" Oh, yes. Once too often.
--By James Poniewozik