Review: CBS’ ‘How to Be a Gentleman’ big on funny people, light on funny jokes

I’ll be brief on “How to Be a Gentleman,” which CBS debuts tonight at 8:30. On the one hand, this is a show – an odd couple comedy about a sophisticated magazine writer who has to learn how to be more dude-like with the help of his former high school bully – filled with lots of very funny people. David Hornsby (the gentleman) plays Rickety Cricket on “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia,” and is one of that show’s writers, and the creator here. Kevin Dillon (the ex-bully) was consistently one of the few parts of “Entourage” I didn’t hate myself for watching. Dave Foley (Hornsby’s editor, who’s adrift when the magazine goes the Maxim route(*)) was one of the Kids in the Hall, as well as the center of one of my all-time favorite sitcoms, “NewsRadio.” Before she was Chloe on “24,” Mary Lynn Rajskub (Hornsby’s sister) was a very strange and funny comedienne. Rhys Darby (Rajskub’s wimpy husband) was the hilarious Murray on HBO’s deadpan “Flight of the Conchords.” Nancy Lenehan (Hornsby’s mother) has been a welcome sitcom presence for years.

(*) As Fienberg explained at length in this week’s podcast, the show’s basic premise about an Esquire-style writer struggling to adjust to a Maxim-ized world is nearly 15 years out of date.

On the other hand, this is not a funny pilot, at all. (Though Foley came closest to being funny on a couple of occasions.) It’s not aggressively, obnoxiously bad like the second episode of “2 Broke Girls,” or like some of the comedy pilots that have yet to premiere (assuming ABC ever has the onions to schedule “Work It”), or like the show’s it’s replacing, “$#*! My Dad Says.”(**) But on top of having a dated premise, it just feels tired. Dillon is essentially playing a Johnny Drama who never went to Hollywood. Hornsby’s doing Felix Unger, but without the unrelenting self-confidence that Tony Randall brought to that role in the ’70s. (Though Hornsby has promised that later episodes will show him raising Dillon up just as much as Dillon drags him down, there’s a clear power imbalance in the pilot.)

(**) Coincidentally, Justin Halpern, who created the @ShitMyDadSays Twitter feed and helped create the sitcom version, is a staff writer on this show.

Sometimes, a large collection of funny people fail to be funny for an entire series. But sometimes, a pilot is too busy establishing its premise to figure out how to be use the various talented voices it has on hand. Maybe “Gentleman” figures itself out in a few weeks time, maybe not. But it has plenty of room, and tools, for improvement.

Alan Sepinwall may be reached at