There’s something very odd about the recent trailers for a couple of upcoming animated films. This summer, Columbia Pictures will be releasing The Angry Birds Movie, an adaptation of the popular video game, featuring the voices of Jason Sudeikis, Josh Gad, Danny McBride, Bill Hader, Maya Rudolph, and Kate McKinnon. Watch the trailer though, and the only actors highlighted are the men. Meanwhile, the trailer for The Secret Life Of Pets (also due this summer) includes scenes with characters voiced by Jenny Slate and Lake Bell, and yet those actress’ names are dumped into the “also in this movie” card at the end of the ad, while the bigger “starring” card trumpets Louis CK, Eric Stonestreet, and Kevin Hart. There’s nothing wrong with Sudeikis or Stonestreet, and nothing wrong with them getting higher billing, especially since (in Sudeikis’ case, at least) they appear to have a more substantial role. But what’s the rationale for downplaying the involvement of the ladies? Is Columbia’s marketing department afraid that parents won’t take their kids to see Angry Birds if they find out some of the birds are gals?
A lot of overdue attention has been paid lately to the gender imbalance in Hollywood, and with each new inquiry what’s becoming clearer is that male bias in the entertainment industry doesn’t stem from any nefarious misogynist conspiracy. It has a lot more to do with the people in charge in L.A. being genuinely convinced that guys are more interesting—and being certain that their customers agree, no matter how much evidence there is to the contrary.
Fox’s new sitcom Cooper Barrett’s Guide To Surviving Life probably doesn’t deserve to be dinged just because it may owe its existence to showbiz chauvinism. Cooper Barrett is a mediocre comedy, but it means well. It’s not some aggressive, obnoxious reaffirmation of the patriarchy. Still, a lot of what makes the show such a big zero is rooted in this idea that merely green-lighting a series about “bros being bros” is half of the creative battle.
Harvard-trained British actor Jack Cutmore-Scott plays Cooper Barrett, a hunky, incorrigible party boy who’s been out of college for a few years, but is still living like a dorm-dweller in the Los Angeles apartment he shares with his two best friends: Neal (a dweeby romantic played by Charlie Saxton) and Barry (a big, boisterous man-child, played by James Earl). Part The Hangover and part Ferris Bueller’s Day Off—with a liberal dollop of New Girl stirred into the base—Cooper Barrett’s Guide To Surviving Life takes its cues from its title, with Cutmore-Scott’s cutie-pie hero looking into the camera and addressing younger viewers, imparting what he’s learned from his various misadventures. In the four episodes that Fox provided to critics, everyday young adult problems like overdrawn bank accounts and lost cell phones spin into wacky chaos, usually involving threats of violence and excessive intoxicants.
Cooper Barrett has two major female characters. Liza Lapira (very funny a couple of years ago as the wary neighbor in Don’t Trust The B—— In Apartment 23) plays Cooper’s sister-in-law Leslie, a new mother described by Cooper’s brother Josh as “a fun-sucker.” And Meaghan Rath (from the U.S. version of Being Human) plays Kelly Bishop, the hero’s neighbor and love interest. Through the four episodes provided, neither woman is defined much beyond “uptight” and “cool girl,” respectively. In two episodes, they’re shunted off into a negligible B-story together while the men are having what they call “a bro-venture.” In the most promising of these four, “How To Survive Being A Plus One,” Kelly’s more integrated into the main plot, which is about Cooper trying to impress her by going to extraordinary measures to get her to Mexico for a wedding. (Full disclosure: The script for that episode is credited to A.V. Club contributor Amelie Gillette.)
Meanwhile, as the gals stay in and gab, Cooper and his buds are out and about, making asses of themselves. The show follows a couple of recurring subplots: one about whether the hero will end up with Kelly, and the other about his attempts to launch a career as the manufacturer of a drinkable hangover cure. But mostly each installment sticks with the guys as they try to retrieve a stolen TV, or deal with the side-effects of selling their bodies to an experimental drug trial, or run afoul of a mob of thieving skateboarders.
Cooper Barrett was created by Jay Lacopo, a writer who’s been kicking around since the early 1990s, when he wrote Ben Affleck’s directorial debut, the short film “I Killed My Lesbian Wife, Hung Her On A Meathook, And Now I Have A Three Picture Deal At Disney.” His comic sensibility can be charitably described as “broad.” Lacopo’s inclined to take a realistic situation—like a car getting impounded due to unpaid tickets—and to exaggerate it into something that comes off more desperately frenetic than “fun.” If he has a surrogate in the cast, it’s Josh, the mellower older fella who admires these kids’ spunk, and wants to participate in their hijinks even if he doesn’t really “get” them. (Josh, by the way, is played by The Hangover’s dopey groom Justin Bartha. Inevitably.)
Cooper Barrett’s Guide To Surviving Life isn’t terrible. The premise and structure are unusual enough that they could conceivably make the show stand out someday—that is, if used for something other than building every episode into a Dude, Where’s My Car?-level calamity. Plus, this is essentially a “hangout comedy,” and those have a habit of improving once they find a rhythm and flesh out their worlds. It’s not inconceivable that this series could stick around long enough to develop into something as lively and likable as Happy Endings (or, again, New Girl).
It’s also not impossible (or even inadvisable) to generate comedy almost exclusively from the lives and relationships of men, any more than it’s a mistake for Mom or Broad City to dwell among the distaff. But while Cutmore-Scott is charismatic, and smartly plays Cooper more as an enthusiastic scamp than a self-absorbed asshole, the show around him doesn’t have any distinct, revelatory perspective on its lead character, or on what it means to be a “bro.” Lacopo mostly adopts the general attitude of Josh—giving an admiring shake of the head at the memory of being young and stupid. For all the craziness stuffed into each episode, there’s not really much to Cooper Barrett’s Guide To Surviving Life. The joke is that… they’re guys? And they get wasted a lot? And they overreact to stuff? Too often in Hollywood, that’s enough of a pitch to get the go-ahead.