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Don't expect 'Best Friends' to last long

A short season doesn't bode well for the slight new NBC comedy with an improvisational touch.

  • Jessica St. Clair, left, Lennon Parhamand Luka Jones in "Best Friends Forever."
Jessica St. Clair, left, Lennon Parhamand Luka Jones in "Best Friends… (Neil Jacobs / NBC )

"Best Friends Forever," which premieres Wednesday night, is NBC's second relationship comedy of the winter-spring semi-season, after the fine but blown-off "Bent." As with "Bent," only six episodes have been ordered, and though this is not in itself a portent of failure -- the first season of "Seinfeld," which launched in the summer, lasted but five episodes -- I don't see the network digging in for a longer haul. It's the sort of relatively realistic comedy it greenlights to its own later confusion.

At the same time, I'm all for the six-episode run; not every show needs to run a marathon. Six episodes of this seems just about right to me.

It stars its creators, Lennon Parham (as Lennon White) and Jessica St. Clair (as Jessica Black), who have themselves been friends since they met in the trenches of improv at New York's Upright Citizens Brigade Theater. In the opening episode, Jessica returns to Brooklyn from San Francisco after her marriage breaks up, and, for the show's foreseeable and perhaps entire future, moves back into the apartment she formerly shared with old friend Lennon, now living with her boyfriend, who is such a regular guy that he is named Joe (Luka Jones). Tensions ensue. But hugs follow.

The pilot is a minor thing but not an unpleasant one, once you get past the opening salvo of pubic-hair jokes. If I never felt an invigorating whoosh of surprise -- as in, say, the "30 Rock" pilot, when Tracy Jordan tells Liz Lemon that they were a team like chicken and a chicken container -- I did not experience the sort of existential despair that bad television inspires. (Especially when it is successful bad television.)

Much of it has the feel of being built from improvisation and at times has the flavor of comedians doing shtick rather than civilians living life. (As in the pubic-hair exchange, though possibly people are having these conversations out of my earshot.) To "create a world," the pilot pushes personal quirks, shared traditions and generational pop-culture references; the characters recite lines and mint catch phrases from favorite movies (specifically from "Braveheart," which is Lennon's favorite film when she's with Joe, and "Steel Magnolias," which is her favorite film with Jessica).

Some viewers will surely see themselves in these characters; others, who just like to fill their evenings with half-hour comedies, should not regret the mere three hours the series asks of them. I'm certain you'll see more of Parham and St. Clair, who were already busy actors before they got here, and of Daija Owens, as a mouthy 9-year-old neighbor who hangs out on her stoop because "there's a new baby in my house and I don't like the way it smells." But I will lay odds that it won't be in Season 2 of "Best Friends Forever."


'Best Friends Forever'

Where: NBC

When: 8:30 p.m. Wednesday

Rating: TV-14-DL (may be unsuitable for children under the age of 14 with advisories for suggestive dialogue and coarse language)

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