NBC’s New Best Friends For Ever Introduces Improv to Sitcoms

Innovation, though generally universally commended, does not
necessarily lead to better or more believable television when put into
practice. However, Best Friends Forever, a new NBC comedy on
Wednesdays at 8:30 p.m., makes a radically new way of writing work in
charming and delightful ways. Instead of assembling a group of writers
to craft the plot and dialogue for every episode in a writer’s room,
like most sitcoms, the two lead actors, Lennon Parham and Jessica St.
Clair, craft story and dialogue by recording their own improv, and later going back to add dialogue for the characters they are not playing. 

For improvisors as seasoned as Parham and St. Clair, this works very nicely, and they are able to craft a character
dynamic that feels very natural and light. The improvisational factor
removes the very constructed quality that many sitcoms have. Also notable in the dynamic between Parham and St. Clair is that
they are, indeed, best friends in real life, and have been working at New York’s Upright Citizen’s Brigade Theater together for quite some time. They keep their (nick)names on the show as well, and the other
characters call them “Len” and “Jess.” All this makes one feel as
though the viewer knows these two people rather well after watching the show for five minutes.  

The show’s personal quality was especially impressive to watch in the pilot
episode, infamously a rough time for any blossoming sitcom, because
there is too much heavy-handed character set-up for anything to be very
funny (see the pilots of Parks and Recreation or Will & Grace if
you are curious what this looks like—it is not particularly pleasant). The pilot begins with a video chat between the two best friends, soon
interrupted by Jess being served divorce papers (via FedEx two-day
delivery, no less). Lennon is quick to invite her friend back to the
New York apartment they used to share, where Lennon now lives with her new boyfriend, Joe. Jess is a giant mess and will presumably
be crashing with them for the rest of the six-episode season.  

My one complaint from the pilot—how annoying
Jess is in her whiney and domineering ways-has been reasonably well-dealt with as the show has relaxed into what it will probably look
like if it gets picked up for a second season next fall. It will be
interesting to see how the character dynamics are forced to change when
Jess has to find her own place. I have high hopes for a fall pick-up,
as it has been reasonably well reviewed by critics and because NBC is
much more forgiving of poor early ratings than most other networks. It
is very good—you should all go watch the first four episodes on Hulu in
the breaks you will inevitably take from finals.

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