A partnership mismatched but likely to last

Martin Lawrence (left) and Kelsey Grammer play opposite personalities at a Chicago law firm. It's a parade of hit-or-miss punch lines, but it's a good laugh. BYRON COHEN / FX

It's hard to imagine a more discrepant pairing than Kelsey Grammer (Frasier) and Martin Lawrence (Big Momma's House). Urbane, meet Apoplectic.

Of course, that's the whole point of their new FX sitcom, Partners, in which they play antithetical attorneys in a two-man Chicago law firm.

Wait a minute. Wasn't Partners the name of a short-lived CBS sitcom with Michael Urie and David Krumholtz just last season? Nice to see Hollywood recycling titles. Maybe next we'll have a comedy named Bonanza, with John Stamos as a jinxed lottery winner.

In Partners (premiering Monday at 9 p.m.), Grammer's role as Allen Braddock is right in his pompous wheelhouse. He's an empty but expensive suit who has just been fired from his father's prestigious firm. He's an ethically challenged shark of a lawyer who can smell money in the water from miles away.

Lawrence has to do more stretching to play Marcus Jackson, a soft-hearted idealist who is in this business for justice. Lawrence's exertions to pull off this saintly figure are sometimes obvious.

The central conflict is their contradictory approach to practicing law. But Lawrence's candid yet loving home life (his mother, played by Telma Hopkins, apparently lives above their office) is also played off of Grammer's phony and manipulative relationship with his bratty stepdaughter (McKaley Miller).

The uptight white chord is echoed by Rory O'Malley as their fastidious, obsessive, gay paralegal.

Partners has two veteran TV bosses at the helm. Robert Horn ran Queen Latifah's sitcom Living Single, and lately has been churning out Disney Channel flicks like Teen Beach Movie. Bob Boyett is responsible for most of ABC's assembly-line TGIF sitcoms, including Full House, Step by Step, and Family Matters.

In fact, Partners is most reminiscent of one of Boyett's lesser-known comedies, Perfect Strangers, with Mark Linn-Baker and Bronson Pinchot. For lawyers, Allen and Braddock do a remarkable amount of their own investigating - actually, it's usually trespassing with intent to snoop. But it leads to tiptoeing around in slapstick fashion, just like Larry and Balki used to do on Perfect Strangers.

The writing is uneven - especially Lawrence's dialogue - and deliberately smutty. The scripts really push their luck in the race and gender arenas, but the laugh track doesn't seem to mind.

This is very much an old-school sitcom, just with a slightly raunchier edge. But there's a reason that genre has proven imperishable on TV. The parade-of-punch-lines formula works. And it does here, too, although in a slightly hit-or-miss fashion.

FX has the same deal with this production that it had with Charlie Sheen's comeback vehicle, Anger Management. If the first 10 episodes exceed a certain ratings yardstick, the channel must automatically renew it for 90 more episodes.

Which means, unless I miss my guess, that FX's Partners will be with us far longer than CBS's Partners was.




at 9 p.m. Monday

on FX


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