Maybe it’s just me, but Traffic Light seemed to slip in under the radar in early February. There was little fanfare for this comedy that airs on Fox after Raising Hope, but it had some funny moments, so checking out the pilot was in order.
The show takes full advantage of hands-free telephone technology now widely available in newer cars. The pilot opens with all three of the main characters talking to one another as they drive, and gets really funny when one of them gets pulled over. This turns out to be more than just a one-off bit. This angle allows the writers a fresh, modern take on friendly conversation—does the world need another sit-com where everyone hangs out in a bar? It also underscores an element of the zeitgeist; we’re all connected, all the time, even when we’re ‘alone.’
The three main characters are introduced as they speak, with subtitles giving their names and relationship statuses; these are completely unnecessary, as the dialogue does a perfectly fine job of filling us in.
Mike (David Denman, The Office) is married with a baby. Adam (Nelson Franklin, also The Office) is just moving in with his girlfriend. Ethan (Kris Marshall)’s only significant relationship is with his dog. Three different guys are in three different stages of life, giving the writers ample opportunity to riff on singlehood and relationships alike. One other piece of information is worked into the conversation. The 27th (of whatever month we’re in) is “Ben’s day.” There are a few more brief mentions of Ben throughout, but we have to wait until the end of the episode for payoff.
The two women rounding out the cast are Mike’s wife, Lisa (Liza Lapira, Dollhouse) and Adam’s girlfriend, Callie (Aya Cash). Lisa gets a great introduction. Mike is hiding out in his car, parked a block from his house, in order to sneak in alone time from his family. He explains this to his friends on the phone in such a way that we, the audience, don’t see him as an irresponsible jerk but rather as just a guy who wants to watch Ironman in peace. Lisa surprises us—and him—by showing up at the car to nonchalantly hand off the baby. She then heads off for a jog, shouting, “love you!”
It’s refreshing that Lisa’s not a stereotype; either a nagging wife who beats her husband into service or a hysterical prima donna who cries when he bails. So far, so good. Then, however, things start to spiral into sit-com 101. Of course, one of the characters has to be a lawyer and one has to be a journalist. Lisa starts nagging Mike to go to some work function with her, and even if she lacks in nagging capacity, Callie more than makes up for it. Nagging leads to lying and manipulating when Adam has to get out from under her thumb to hang out with the guys.
The plot devolves further with some nonsense about Mike having to dress as a wrestling clown for Adam’s boss’s son’s bar mitzvah. Finally, we get to a resolution that reveals who Ben is, or rather was, and thus the bond shared by the three guys. It’s a nice, sensitive moment, ala How I Met Your Mother, albeit with a strained metaphor for the “traffic light of the title.” Once can only hope that the attempted tear jerker won’t become the hallmark of each episode.