Fonzie from “Happy Days” had a son, let’s say, but he was adopted and raised by Barney from “How I Met Your Mother.” So he grows up and becomes a tough guy in a leather jacket — a Disney version of a “Wild One” — who has mad and crazy game with the ladies. Every morning, a gorgeous woman shame-walks out of his Detroit bro pad, rumpled and, it appears, satisfied.
Now, with “Undateable,” that guy — Danny (Chris D’Elia) — is the main dude on an NBC sitcom, which premieres Thursday at 9 p.m. He is, of course, the leader of a pack of losers who become his acolytes, most notably the dweeby bar owner Justin (Brent Morin), with whom he begins an “Odd Couple” roommate situation. And together, the guys — sometimes with a token woman, Leslie (Bianca Kajlich) — form a typically cartoonish network ensemble, spitting out all-but-sexist one-liners about dating and women and what a real man would do (in case you’re wondering, he would close the deal).
Meanwhile, the loud, abrasive laugh track will give you a case of eczema.
And yet, and yet. “Undateable” is not entirely awful — or, as the title begs, unwatchable. Yes, it’s the latest in the networks’ long-term effort to grab young male viewers by portraying women as masochistic and men as cavemen — cavemen with hearts, but still, cavemen. Way back in 2011 — in Hollywood time, that’s forever ago — CBS delivered a similarly Neanderthal sitcom called “How to Be a Gentleman” that disappeared quickly after viewers threatened to bring a class-action suit for cruel and unusual joke fails. And don’t forget about “Man Up!” and “Men at Work” and “Dads” — or rather, do.
But, amid the dated material and the forced efforts to create catchphrases on “Undateable,” there is some skill in evidence. Show creator Bill Lawrence, whose resume includes one of the best comedies of the 2000s, “Scrubs,” knows how to identify and bring together talented comedic actors.
D’Elia, with his trademark lifted eyebrow, is in the zone at this point in his career, despite the unsophisticated script. He seems to dance around the stage, savoring every second. Likewise newcomer Morin, whom we meet singing Backstreet Boys at the top of his lungs. Morin is playing another one of TV’s many geeks, but with an amusing “Glee”-like spin and some sweet tics. His character has a crush on the bartender at the bar he owns, but he can’t stop snubbing her — one of the few bits of human nature on the show that feels even slightly fresh.
So there are the props. I doubt the “Undateable” humor will ever rise above the level of “Two and a Half Men,” but maybe, for the ensemble, the show will serve as a springboard to more worthy material.Matthew Gilbert can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @MatthewGilbert.