[This is a review of Cooper Barrett’s Guide to Surviving Life season 1, episode 1. There will be SPOILERS.]
Comedies have tackled the subject of friendships and growing up time and time again, but the new FOX sitcom, Cooper Barrett’s Guide to Surviving Life, tackles the trials and tribulations of three recent college graduates who move in together and try to figure out what to do with their adult lives. Written by Jay Lacopo, who started out as an actor before writing films like The Third Wheel, the series follows Cooper Barrett (Jack Cutmore-Scott) through each misadventure of adulthood, while the recent college grad gives fourth wall-breaking tips to the audience about the goings-on of the episode.
The series is executive produced Lacopo and Gail Berman (Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel); filling out the rest of the main cast are Cooper’s unlucky-in-love friend/roommate Neal (Charlie Saxton), his “lovable a**hole” friend/roommate Barry (James Earl), his fortysomething unhappy-ish older brother Josh (Justin Bartha), his neighbor/friend/love interest Kelly (Meaghan Rath), and Josh’s wife Leslie (Liza Lapira).
In the first episode, ‘How to Survive Your Loveable Jackass’, directed by James Griffiths, Cooper and his roommates have a housewarming party that gets out of hand, leading to their brand new TV being stolen; over the next four years, they attempt to track the television down and reclaim it. The premiere of Cooper Barrett largely succeeds in establishing a lovable group of friends while quickly moving through exposition in compelling and sometimes hilarious ways, though, at times, the episode fails to overcome comedy cliches and tropes. Still, ‘How to Survive Your Loveable Jackass’ sets out to achieve a lot in a roughly 20-minute episode, and what Cooper Barrett (both the character and the show) proves to be capable of is having a lot of potential.
One of the bigger aspects of the premiere episode that Cooper Barrett sets out to achieve is a storyline spanning multiple years, taking viewers from the time he and his friends graduate college in 2011, through 2013 when they still haven’t figured out their lives yet, all the way to 2015. These time leaps are held together by first jumping into the story with Cooper kidnapped and tied up in 2015, then flashing back to 2011 and 2013 to tell the story of the stolen television. Cooper Barrett also plays these flashbacks for pop culture jokes, including Barry’s naked dance to Cee Lo Green’s ‘Forget You’ or Batkid playing in the background of a scene. But at their core, the flashbacks work to update viewers about each of the characters and their own respective arcs to move the story forward while providing exposition.
For instance, at the housewarming party in 2011, Cooper is accused of not being ready to be a man since he’s still figuring things out, then in 2013 he’s seen working as a promoter for the energy drink Tiger Thrust, and in 2015 he quits that job to start his own business. Though the show skips through these four years rather quickly, it’s a unique and comical way to establish Cooper’s character and what to expect from him throughout the first season. However, the story lines of Barry, Neal, Josh, and Kelly aren’t as well-developed as Cooper’s. Barry’s is mainly focused on his obsession with reclaiming the TV while Neal finds himself in a relationship he doesn’t want to be in and puts up with for four years before finally ending it.
Josh is perhaps the most underdeveloped of the main four characters to the point that the transition from his 2011 self, who calls his pregnant wife a “fun-sucker,” to the more mature father of two in 2015 doesn’t feel quite as earned as the evolutions of other characters. But that seems to be a consequence of this episode aiming to achieve too much within such a short span of time. In that same vein, both Kelly and Leslie don’t have much opportunity to flourish within the premiere, though Kelly is much more developed than Leslie since she’s more integral to Cooper’s life. However, both characters showed promise in adding to the humor of the series.
Still, in the premiere episode Cooper Barrett establishes itself as a heartwarming friend comedy, with Barry explaining the reason he became so obsessed with getting their TV back because it was “a giant future memory box” and speaking sentimentally about how they won’t always be living together. This theme of Barry appreciating the time he has with his friends and trying not to take his post-college years for granted by only looking to the future will surely hit home with many twentysomething viewers who have, will, or are going through a similar stage in their own lives.
The premiere episode additionally makes good use of the premise to set up a family-friendly comedy with the structure of Ned’s Declassified School Survival Guide and the humor of The Hangover. But, Cooper Barrett’s strength will come from the friendship between Cooper, Neil, Barry, and Josh, with other characters like Kelly, Leslie, and even more side characters like their landlord Virgil (played by Marshall Manesh, who How I Met Your Mother fans will recognize as Ranjit) adding more depth to the cast. However, the show will need to further develop these characters past their cliches, like Josh as the unhappy husband, Neal as the unlucky in love nerd, Barry as the Black Best Friend, and Kelly as the cool girl.
That being said, though, if Cooper Barrett manages to maintain its incredibly relatable theme, further develop its core group of characters, and continue telling slightly wacky and ridiculous stories, it could prove to be a successful comedy. ‘How to Survive Your Loveable Jackass’ shows Cooper Barrett has potential, but it remains to be seen if this new comedy will capitalize on that potential and follow its dreams or succumb to a mediocre adult life.
Cooper Barrett’s Guide to Surviving Life continues next Sunday with ‘How to Survive Insufficient Funds’ at 8:30pm on FOX.
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