Friends With Benefits
FRIENDS WITH BENEFITS “Pilot” Season 1 Episode 1 – Is it just me or will 2011 go down in pop culture history as the Year of No-Strings-Attached Sex, as evidenced by not one, but two feature films and now, with NBC’s new show FRIENDS WITH BENEFITS, a television series? It’s certainly not a new idea, but it seems to have the current backing of the entertainment executives of the world, prompting us all to wonder, “Are we having as much casual sex with our friends as we could be?”

The real-life answer is probably no, especially not if it results in as many romantic relationships as in the fictional world. Isn’t that whole point of having a friend with benefits…not ending up saddled with a relationship? Or is it just not possible to separate the emotional from the physical?

Friends With Benefits is the latest attempt to answer that question in a half-hour comedy format. The show centers around five Chicago friends in their late twenties who are all in pursuit of sex and love and whatever lies in between. Ben Harrison (Ryan Hansen) and Sara Welker (Danneel Ackles aka Mrs. Dean Winchester) are old friends who have recently started sleeping together. Aaron Greenway (Zach Cregger) is a nice guy who habitually falls in love with girls who just want to date jerks. Riley Kuleck (Jessica Lucas) is a sexually adventurous bartender. Hoon or Fitz (the show says Fitz, Wikipedia says Hoon, portrayed by Andre Holland either way) is the Token of the group who, unfortunately, has only a few lines, not nearly enough to get a sense of who he is beyond the fifth wheel.

Because this premise has been done and redone and done again, the deciding factor in its success boils down to the characters themselves. Can we care about them through cliched plots and stale jokes? I was pleasantly surprised to find that, for at least some of them, I could.

Ben could be your typical oversexed, overgrown frat boy, but he turns out to be an almost loveable doofus who jumps on his own bed after he’s just had sex in it. Aaron, who buys his girlfriend of three months a horse, is sweet and naive, not rare on TV, but who doesn’t like rooting for the underdog?

It’s actually the women who fall a little flat for me. Sara, who has reached the old-maid age of 28, decides she wants a grown-up relationship, even as she’s crawling out of bed with her best guy pal. And Riley, who has presumably known Aaron for more than five minutes, decides that seducing the heartbroken romantic immediately after he’s dumped is a really great idea.

I’m willing to look past these inconsistencies for now, but if a pattern of stupid choices develops, it will be hard to overlook the show’s other minor annoyances, such as the text conversations (yes, I know that’s how we communicate now, but that doesn’t mean anyone’s found a great way to utilize it on television yet), random voice-overs and a montage of the friends getting ready to go out on the town set to “I Want You to Want Me.”

All in all, Friends With Benefits produced a pilot that didn’t make me dread the next episode. Which was good, because it started immediately afterwards. Thank you, NBC!

Things I Liked: Aaron hiring a professional putter to help him beat Ben at Wii Golf, Aaron grooming the horse, maybe just Aaron himself.

Things I’m Looking Forward To: The fallout from Riley and Aaron’s hookup, more disgusting drink creations like the Peanut Buttertini.

Best Line: “(You kiss) like a hobo cleaning out a margarine container.”

What did you think of the show? Is Ben actually a douchebag and I’ve just got a crush on Ryan Hansen leftover from Veronica Mars? Does Sara remind you of Elliot on Scrubs in a good way or a bad way? Let me know in the comments below!