'Partners': Stars twinkle, but script needs dusting off

Kelsey Grammer and Martin Lawrence go at it in Partners.
Kelsey Grammer and Martin Lawrence go at it in Partners.

SAN FRANCISCO — Partners sure is an odd duck for FX. The sitcom, premiering Monday, feels like something you'd see on broadcast television, if only broadcast were still able to come up with modestly competent sitcoms.

After making a comfortable home for comedies like Louie, Wilfred and It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia, FX unveils a rather old-fashioned show about two ill-matched law partners played by Martin Lawrence and Kelsey Grammer.

Lawrence plays Marcus Jackson, an altruistic champion of the little guy, while Grammer is Allen Braddock, who delights in being ruthless and is always on the lookout for billable hours from major clients.

Allen is such a sleazebag, his own father fires him from the family law firm, leaving Allen with very few options to pursue his career. Marcus is going through a divorce and is so acquiescent by nature, he's about to let his wife take him for nearly everything he's got, until Allen jumps into the picture and works out a more equitable property settlement.

The two men have so little in common, of course it makes sense for them to pair up, but that doesn't mean they either like or trust each other.

In the second of the two episodes airing Monday, the pair pose as a gay couple looking to engage the services of a wedding planner who is suspected of cheating her clients. It's a stock set-up, but with the addition of the contemporary twist of same-sex marriage. There are very funny lines, of course, but the episode skirts very close to the edge of homophobia -- something you don't see happening in ABC's Modern Family, for example, which just ended its season with the wedding of Cam and Mitchell.

Virtually all of the supporting roles are time-worn stock characters, as if to further remind us how little inventiveness went into the show's concept.

There is great chemistry between old pros Lawrence and Grammer, even if the scripts are spotty and feel about 20 years old, same-sex marriage references notwithstanding. Of course, it's great to see Grammer back in the sitcom harness and playing comically pompous.

The show was created by Bob Boyett and Robert Horn and has been given one of FX's 10/90 models for new sitcoms. The network ordered 10 episodes of the show and if it clicks, they'll up the order to 90. FX did the same thing with Charlie Sheen's Anger Management.

The approach seems more workable with middle-brow fare than it would for, say, Legit or Wilfred because it's based on the notion that the product has a sufficiently broad appeal to make it ripe for syndication.

Middle of the road — a very old, probably dirt road — though it may be, Partners at least has Grammer and Lawrence playing off each other to merit return visits for 10 episodes.