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Fox's 'Partners' depends on a risky love-hate relationship


Probably the most important thing to know about "Partners" is that it's created by two of the producers of "Friends."

I tell you that because I don't much like the pilot, which premieres at 9 tonight after "Melrose Place" on WBFF (Channel 45). But television is a producer's medium, and Jeff Strauss and Jeff Greenstein, the executive producers of "Partners," are supposed to be very good.

So, don't let me steer you off the sitcom altogether. And don't base your final decision on whether or not to make it part of your Monday viewing ritual based on the pilot alone. It might get better. In fact, it should get better. As for the pilot, though . . .

I loved Jon Cryer in the short-lived CBS series, "The Famous Teddy Z." In "Partners," I hate him. The problem is that more is demanded of Cryer this time out.

He's the fulcrum of this sitcom. For it to work, viewers are supposed to have mixed feelings about Cryer's character, Bob. (Yes, just Bob. None of the characters in this show have last names.) As the producers describe him, "Bob, a perennial bachelor, is a fun-loving guy whose smile makes you want to hug him or run for your life."

Bob is the best friend of Owen (Tate Donovan). They work together as architects, party together as friends and finish each other's sentences. They seem inseparable -- until Owen announces his engagement to Alicia (Maria Pitillo).

At this point, Bob starts getting a little weird, playing the friendship card to veto one possible wedding date after another. Finally, Alicia says to Owen, "I guess I just didn't realize when we decided to get married that you already were."

The triangle of "Partners" could wind up working -- if Pitillo starts playing Alicia as a woman instead of a singularly drippy adolescent and if Cryer develops the range to make Bob simultaneously likable and annoying.

Greenstein and Strauss are also going to have to do better in the script department than borrowing from shows like "Seinfeld." Count tonight how many times the characters use the word, "thing," as in "He's doing that lip-pulling thing, with the lips again. What is that, anyway, that thing?" This is the rhythm and language of Jerry Seinfeld.

Does Cryer have the range as an actor? Do Strauss and Greenstein themselves understand Bob? Can you be in your 20s and already be labeled a "perennial bachelor"? Is that code language for saying he's gay?

Questions are good, and there's nothing wrong with a pilot that leaves you asking a lot of them. The problem with "Partners" is that I'm not sure I would care enough to come back for answers.

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