Hi. I’m your reviewer, and right now, you may be wondering, ‘Why must this review start with one of those tired, uncomfortable fourth-wall breakages that tries to pass off winking self-awareness as wit?’ That’s because this is the grating schematic that the beginning of every episode of Fox’s middling new series Cooper Barrett’s Guide To Surviving Life, which premieres tonight follows at 8:30 p.m. ET, with our ostensibly charming hero (Jack Cutmore-Scott) accosting the audience in medias res and assuring them that this will all make sense soon. This lede is meant to mimic the structure of a Cooper Barrett episode and illustrate how awkward it truly is, and if that baldfaced explanation of how this works isn’t any better, well, guess what the Cooper Barrett writers’ second-worst habit is.
Yet another entry in the time-tested and frequently time-disproven tradition of ‘just a bunch of guys hanging out’-style sitcoms, Cooper Barrett, not unlike its eponymous protagonist, attempts to coast by on charms it does not quite have. In the four episodes Fox provided critics, Cooper and his buddies — big-mouthed Barry (James Earl), sniveling nerd Neil (Charlie Saxton), and Cooper’s older brother Josh (Justin Bartha) — get into garden-variety shenanigans that usually involve controlled substances of one variety or another, land their buttocks in trouble, and wriggle out of it within a tight 22 minutes. At the conclusion of each episode, Cooper turns to the audience to explicitly outline the lessons imparted through their foibles, and yet nobody really learns anything. If it weren’t for the references to The Weeknd’s “Can’t Feel My Face” and adult kickball leagues, this could’ve just as easily come out last decade, or the decade before it. It’s a sitcom made by people who have learned nothing from the past 20 years of sitcoms. We were supposed to have evolved beyond this by now.
The pilot episode runs under the title “How To Survive Your Loveable Jackass,” which surprisingly does not refer to Cooper himself, but rather Barry. That’s a bit confusing, seeing as the writers have built Cooper around one of the oldest sitcom fallacies: that a good-looking guy can be as insufferably smug as he wishes and still emerge sympathetic at the end of each episode by showing a tenderer side in the final scenes. In his groaningly played-out flirtation with the literal girl next door Kelly (Meaghan Rath of Being Human and Three Night Stand), our boy Coop semi-ironically describes himself as “complicated,” and does that thing where he informs a potential romantic opposite that he knows what she wants better than she does. The audience’s loathing for this young man runs white hot, of course, and yet we’re expected to hop back on Cooper’s side when he ‘fesses up in the final scenes that he’s anxious about a potential future of apathy and failure. This is quite a bit to expect of viewers, though anyone who has made it to the end of the episode for reasons excepting professional obligation may be willing to subscribe to the doucheballoon-as-immature-avatar theory the creators are sweatily peddling.