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The Funny 'Traffic Light' Treats Its Characters and Viewers Like Adults

by Joel Keller, posted Feb 8th 2011 1:00PM
Scene from the new FOX sitcom 'Traffic Light'Fifteen years ago, there was a spate of "a group of single friends hang out together" sitcom clones. Now we've reached the stage where we have a proliferation of "three couples at different stages of their relationship" or "two couples at different stages and their single friend who won't grow up" sitcoms. 'Traffic Light,' which premieres on FOX tonight at 9:30PM ET, is one of those. But there's one major difference between this show and similar shows on the schedule.

'Traffic Light' is actually funny.

While watching the four episodes that FOX sent for review, I was trying to put my finger on why this show made me laugh out loud while shows like 'Rules of Engagement,' 'Perfect Couples' and 'Better With You' generally leave me stone-faced. It's not the situations each guy gets himself into; they're fairly generic and have been seen in sitcoms forever. The humor is sophisticated but nothing groundbreaking.

Somewhere around the second episode, though, it hit me: The show was treating its characters as real adults, with relationships that show the flaws and foibles of both people involved. In doing so, it treats its viewers like adults, too, putting faith in them to laugh in recognition at smaller situations without having to resort to this genre's usual over-the-top characterizations.

The men on this show can be immature, but they're not buffoons. And the women on this show not only show personality beyond that of being shrewish and hectoring, but part of that personality is that they can be wrong just as often as the guys can. Just that little bit of reality makes the show a refreshing oasis in a desert of sitcom-relationship shows.

'Traffic Light' examines the lives of three 30-something Chicago-area friends who went to college together: Mike (David Denman), a lawyer who's married with an 18-month-old son; Adam (Nelson Franklin), a magazine writer who just moved in with his girlfriend; and Ethan (Kris Marshall), a paramedic who still lives the swinging single life, scared to be tied down to any one woman. These buddies are so close that they often call each other on their various car speakerphones as they tool around the Windy City.

Mike's wife Lisa (Liza Lapira) also works full-time, and while she keeps Mike's more childish instincts in check, she also has a few insecurities of her own.

Adam's girlfriend Callie (Aya Cash) is a free-spirited photographer who is just as scared of this new living arrangement as Adam is.

The women's foibles aren't apparent in the pilot, as Mike tries to devise a method of letting his phone buddies know Lisa is in the car, and Adam is already devising lies to get him out of the house and to the bar with Ethan and Mike.

But even in the pilot, we see that things are going to be a little different: Lisa is smart and funny, but doesn't seem to want to mother her husband. "You're a clown, but you're my clown," she tells him (how that line comes up is a funny plot point that you'll have to watch to understand fully). And in Callie, we see that while the guy may start to feel a bit henpecked when he moves in with a woman -- some of those feelings are self-inflicted -- that doesn't mean that the woman doesn't also have doubts and a sense of loss.

In fact, aside from Franklin's fumbling, stammering Everyman line delivery, Lapira and Cash are the most refreshing parts of 'Traffic Light.' Anyone who's seen Lapira in dramas like 'Dollhouse' might be surprised at how naturally funny and expressive she is, and she conveys that Lisa is smart, but not so smart as to evoke a "What is she doing with that idiot?" Cash's comedic gifts come out in a later episode where she admits something that she's been keeping secret from Adam about her finances.

The weakest character of the bunch may be Ethan, because the smooth, Lothario-like single guy has gotten to be a tired sitcom cliché. But at least here, Ethan spends as much time giving advice and learning from his tied-down buddies as he does chasing women both sane and crazy.

Fox hasn't been doing a great job promoting the show. If you went by the promos, 'Traffic Light looks like every other relationship comedy on TV. But at least on this show, you might see situations that resemble real, human relationships, rather than silly sitcom ones. Just for that -- and the laughs -- 'Traffic Light' is worth checking out.

'Traffic Light' airs Tuesdays at 9:30PM on Fox.

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Good show. I thought from some of the previews that I would be annoyed by the single guy character, but he turned out to be not so bad in the end, just kind of unnecessary. Anyway I hope this show sticks around. It's like the anti-Perfect Couples.

February 09 2011 at 10:46 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

This is based of an Israeli sitcom of the same name...

February 09 2011 at 9:52 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I had never even heard of this show until I saw the headline here earlier this evening. Based just on the title of your article I decided to give it a watch. I'm very happy I did. I found myself nodding my head and laughing out loud quite a few times. Thanks for the heads-up. I'll keep watching.

February 09 2011 at 1:06 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

What strange kind of sense of humor, or lack of, do you have if you dont laugh out loud at "Rules of Engagement"!?!?!?!

February 08 2011 at 5:55 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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