At first glance it appears formulaic — three longtime friends now in their 30s navigating the highs and lows of relationships and families. But don’t be fooled by the simplistic exterior — Fox’s “Traffic Light” proves wonderfully inventive.
Tuesdays at 9:30 p.m.
Chronicling the lives of three college buddies and former teammates (more specifically, two former teammates and a former equipment manager), the show portrays each at a different stage of romance and the ways their lives intersect. There’s Mike (David Denman, “The Office”), a married lawyer with a son who wants a little “me time;” Adam (Nelson Franklin, “Scott Pilgrim vs. the World”), a writer who just moved in with his girlfriend and frets about maintaining a social life considering his new living arrangements; and Ethan (Kris Marshall, “Love Actually”), the British paramedic who’s always single and always has a word of advice for his committed comrades.
There is a decent amount of hi-jinks that ensue among the characters and their significant others, with fine performances given by Aya Cash (“Law & Order”) as Adam’s girlfriend Callie and Liza Lapira (“21”) as Mike’s wife Lisa. An incident that involves Mike donning a clown costume for the bar mitzvah of Adam’s boss’s son only to be discovered by his wife feels a tad tried, but it’s well executed with excellent comedic timing from all involved.
What’s so refreshing is that from the outset, the show doesn’t overreach, nor does it give us rehashed sitcom scenarios. Based on the Israeli television series “Ramzor,” “Traffic Light” was developed for American audiences as a midseason replacement by screenwriter Bob Fisher (“Wedding Crashers”). As demonstrated by his previous work, Fisher has a keen understanding of adult friendships.
These characters aren’t buffoons and the comedy isn’t propelled forward, for the most part, by thrusting them into outlandish situations. Instead, by the good fortune of knowing its limitations, it gives us real adults and the humor that’s inherent in growing up. While childhood-turned-adult friends aren’t uncommon in the world of primetime sitcoms, this show doesn’t attempt glitz or glamour. It doesn’t even take us into uncharted territory. Rather, it embraces the known world of companionship by presenting three friends who know and love each other. From there, “Traffic Light” takes off. The joy lies in watching old friends deal with changing times.
These guys are merely kids grown a little older. They’ve been there for each other and as life takes them in different directions their past keeps them bonded. Only old buddies could comfortably explain to one another that “the burn notice rule (i.e. you don’t talk to ex-girlfriends) made sense in college … but we’re off the meal plan now.” College may be over for them, but the familiarity of a college is the glue that keeps the show lively and fresh.
In addition to a well written script, there’s a strong rapport among the cast, with a scene-stealing performance from Nelson Franklin. He turns the plight of a recently domesticated 30-something into a tangible conflict viewers can relate to. But more importantly, Franklin can take an awkward silence and turn it into a comedic gem. One memorable scene has him asking for his girlfriend’s blessing to join his friends for drinks. It’s common sitcom ground, but he approaches it with tact and ease.
The show walks a fine line between comedy and sentiment, but never does it force anything upon the audience. From the mundane to the silly to the just plain confusing, “Traffic Light” keeps it real and invites the audience to share in the realistic pitfalls of love and maturity.