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COVER STORY Will series be as smart as Frasier?

Grammer, Lawrence team up for 'edgy' legal comedy

By Michael Storey

This article was published August 3, 2014 at 1:59 a.m.

Do you like Kelsey Grammer?

How about Martin Lawrence? Do you think he's funny?

If so, you might enjoy the new FX sitcom combining their talents when Partners debuts for a 10-episode run at 8 p.m. Monday. I found the comedy uneven, but there were enough bright spots to give the show a chance.

A chance is what the duo is hoping for. If they do well enough (by some mysterious FX formula), the plans are to give the series a 90-episode order. That's 90 episodes.

No pressure, right?

FX should find out quickly if the show has an audience. The network will air back-to-back episodes for five consecutive weeks preceding new episodes of Charlie Sheen's Anger Management. That sitcom got the same 90-episode deal.

FX is billing the half-hour, multi-camera series as "a smart, edgy legal comedy highlighting the cultural contrast between the haves, the have-nots, and the 'Aww, Hell-No's.'"

Note that the publicity uses the code word "edgy." In TV speak that means it's for adults. The series is rated TV-14 because it "may contain" intensely suggestive dialogue, strong coarse language, intense sexual situations and intense violence.

Somehow I doubt the violence part.

The show is centered on the newly established legal partnership of elitist lawyer Allen Braddock (Grammer) and ethics-driven, community activist Marcus Jackson (Lawrence).

Braddock is the privileged upper-class heir to his father and grandfather's toney Chicago law firm. He's spent his entire life perfecting being pretentious, self-centered and greedy without a conscience -- "everything a good lawyer should be."

After his father fired him for questionable ethics, Braddock found himself cut off financially and socially from high-end lawyering, leaving him to face the consequences of his actions for the first time in his life.

Braddock attempts to get back in the business on his terms by making big bucks on high profile cases using legal loopholes and skirting ethics.

Meanwhile, the modest, recently divorced Jackson is trying to balance family and his struggling law office. He handles cases for neighbors and friends pro bono (or for baked goods) and struggles to pay the bills.

When a court-ordered sanction teams Braddock with Jackson in hopes that some of Jackson's work ethic will rub off, the two find themselves in an Odd Couple partnership where, hopefully, hilarity ensues.

Jackson struggles to be a good father to his sweet, idealistic, college coed daughter, Laura (Daniele Watts), a loving son to his old-school mom, Ruth (the inimitable Telma Hopkins), and even tries to squeeze a little work out of his cynical, joke-quipping assistant, Michael (Rory O'Malley).

What does "old-school mom" mean? Sitcom aficionados probably know the stereotype. Ruth's hobbies consist of gossip and cooking. She has to be right about everything. Sticks her nose in other people's business, and gives opinionated, unsolicited advice. Other than that, Ruth's a sweet woman who values family, God, good Southern cooking and the community.

Meanwhile, Braddock has his hands full with his stepdaughter, Lizzy (McKaley Miller), who came along with Braddock's brand new trophy wife. Braddock is clueless about how to interact with the girl, but tossing money her way seems to be a good start.

Lizzy's biological dad is out of the picture, so she defers to Braddock by default, although she would never admit to needing anyone. She is, after all, a teenager.

Together, the formerly elite Braddock and grassroots Jackson attempt to learn from each other to keep the new law firm profitable and ethical -- something neither of them has ever had.

Also on board is Edi Patterson as law firm private investigator Veronica. She's outgoing, offbeat, confident, uninhibited and overly sexual. The folks in the law office are like a family to her.

Appearing at the Television Critics Association annual summer press tour recently, Grammer told the Los Angeles Times that he realizes he and Lawrence are an unusual combo.

"That's the genesis of it," the 59-year-old Grammer said. "You couldn't get more disparate worlds and yet it's comedy gold. At least, that's what we hope it turns out to be."

Grammer, of course, is best known for his 20-year portrayal of psychiatrist Dr. Frasier Crane on NBC's Cheers and its spinoff Frasier. Grammer earned four Emmys playing Fraiser and another for a voice-over performance on The Simpsons.

"One thing I thought was important was that Partners be as smart as Frasier was," Grammer said. "Martin and I are not Frasier and Niles on this show by any means. We're more like Oscar and Felix -- but in a way that isn't tired. They use their brains in a more vicious way because they want to win cases."

I know what would be "smart" if the series lasts -- have the law firm handle a case featuring Sheneneh Jenkins and Sheneneh's Sho' Nuff Hair Salon. Sheneneh was the smartest thing about Lawrence's '90s sitcom Martin.

Style on 08/03/2014

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