Take a solid concept for a sitcom and cast capable hands in the lead roles; don't try to reinvent the wheel, just deliver laughs based on character and premise. Just like in BBQ, the simplest television recipes are often the most satisfying. This is the case for TBS' promising new single-camera comedy 'Wedding Band' starring Brian Austin Green ('Beverly Hills 90210'): simple set-up, clear motivations, and well-delivered lulz.
You've got to be impressed by the pilot concept for 'Wedding Band:' four guys in their thirties are getting a little old to play the Seattle clubs, but they love the band-life and are extremely talented. So: despite their day jobs, they continue rocking together on weekends at the weddings of the wealthy Seattle elite. Rather than go for the cheap laugh or the easy answer of making these four guys hate their wedding gig and dream of bigger & better stardom, 'Wedding Band' smartly portrays the band as a group of guys who love what they do and truly care about the gigs they play. This makes the characters sympathetic and likable in a way that shows such as 'How I Met Your Mother' and 'Community' are severely lacking.
As for the characters themselves, you have Frontman Tommy, played by Brian Austin Green. Green looks great and his comedic delivery is solid--I spent the episode wondering where he has been since '90210.' Aside from a couple of appearances on 'Happy Endings' and a recurring role on 'Desperate Housewives,' Green has largely been out of the spotlight. As Tommy, he earns his scenes, never taking the easy way out of a joke by relying on a charming grin. Tommy works as a Seattle Rock tourguide day-to-day, allowing him to retain his perpetual bachelor status and his rocker appearance. Green is more than nostalgia casting here and 'Wedding Band' seems like an ideal showcase to remind us all just how capable of a comic he is.
Tommy's best friend is lead guitarist Eddie played by Peter Cambor ('Notes From the Underbelly,' 'NCIS: Los Angeles'). Eddie isn't a rocker by day any longer; he has two children and a beautiful wife. But he clearly adores his band and is devoted to their successes, even if he isn't the party animal Tommy is. 'Wedding Band' impressed me in the handling of Eddie's children, once again by refusing to take the expected angle on the story and offering a slight twist. In the pilot, Eddie has to lie to his wife about taking their children out to see something called 'Yo Gabba Gabba' when in reality he is heading to a very important band gig. Rather than treat the children as mindless baggage, the show makes it clear that Eddie's young children are in on the lie with him, going along with his plan to fool their mommy. Again, it's the small touches like this that should set 'Wedding Band' apart from the recycled shlock of 'Partners' and other first-season sitcoms.
After Tommy and Eddie there is Stevie, the extremely talented and successful studio musician who is taking a step out of the spotlight in order to belong to a real band brotherhood. Stevie is played by the biggest name actor on the series, Harold Perrineau ('Romeo & Juliet,' '28 Weeks Later,' 'LOST,' 'Oz,' 'Sons of Anarchy'). Perrineau is a brilliant actor and a proven hand but this is one of his first forays into the realm of comedy. So far his slight stand-offish performance suits the character of Stevie, as he is the newest addition to the titular band. He is learning the strange rules of this niche performance market just as we are learning who these men are.
The fourth and final member of the band is the drummer, Barry, the role that has to be considered the weak link. Barry is essentially a caricature of Jack Black from the 'Tenacious D' series and we aren't given any further characterization to him beyond the fact that he loves to rock. I want to make it clear that I do not blame Derek Miller, the actor behind Barry's devil-horns: he is working with what he is given and the script is clearly trying to capture Black's comedic essence in another person. Here's hoping that, as the series moves forward, Barry becomes a little more of a character and less of a stereotype.
As the Pilot moves forward, we are introduced to a group of antagonists (another local wedding band who dresses in hair-metal style and ropes in bigger venues than our heroes) and a MacGuffin (the famous wedding planner Roxie Rutherford becomes their goal--impress Roxie and bigger shows (and bigger paychecks) will follow). Tommy is trying to grow up, Eddie is trying to be a good father, Stevie is trying to find friendship and Barry... Barry wants to rock. Overall this is a premise that could have gone either way, given the cast it was handed to. Luckily, 'Wedding Band' cultivates a conversational style of dialogue in the vein of 'Arrested Development' rather than the rhythmic staccato dialogue of traditional sitcom delivery. All in all: this concept has legs. After a strong start, here's hoping this 'Band' earns an encore performance.
FINAL GRADE: B+