‘Couples’ breaks up network’s primetime mojo

I don’t get it, NBC. You have a Thursday night comedy line-up that has competing networks drooling. “30 Rock,” “Parks & Recreation,” “The Office” and “Community” are all keeping your ratings high.

Why tarnish your golden reputation by adding a mediocre romance comedy like “Perfect Couples” to your program?

It’s not that “Perfect Couples” is bad, per se. Actually, the show has the potential to be great.

Casting experienced comic actors such as Kyle Bornheimer (“Worst Week”), Mary Elizabeth Ellis (“It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia”) and Olivia Munn (“Attack of the Show”) was a step in the right direction.

The fundamental plot—three couples, all interrelated, navigating through the ups and downs of suburban life—lays a groundwork for jokes.

The problem is that none of the show’s writers seem interested in digging deep enough into character development and true-to-life scenarios to make it worth watching.

Stilted dialogue and cheesy sitcom setups drag “Perfect Couples” down to embarrassing lameness. The first episode opens with vignettes of one partner in each couple messing up.

Instead of stretching for innovative jokes, the writers give us clichés: One guy, while looking at an old picture, tells his wife, “God, you were pretty.”

Another joke about sex (“Was it good?” asks the husband. “Umm…” is the wife’s reply) falls flat.  

These jokes do nothing except reinforce a pop-culture stereotype: that scolding, disciplined women save men from perpetual (and pathetic) inner immaturity.

Judd Apatow imagined this scenario in films like “Knocked Up” and “40-Year-Old Virgin” much better than anything the “Perfect Couples” writers have come up within the first few episodes.

There are no signs of imagination in the later episodes, either.In the third episode, we are introduced to the “man cave.” Really, the man cave? Does that term do anything more than satirize stereotypical beer-bellied masculinity? Has anyone even said “man cave” in the last five years?

In the most recent episode, the women in each relationship get jealous because their husbands are hiking on trails shared by—gasp!—other women. These setups are pathetic, slightly misogynistic, and—worst of all—boring.

On any other network, and on any other night, “Perfect Couples” might have scored a few laughs and higher ratings. But ultimately, it suffers in comparison to the rest of NBC’s Thursday night. Whenever Mary Elizabeth Ellis is onscreen, I can’t help thinking of how much funnier her “Always Sunny” character is. The same goes for Olivia Munn, whose comic delivery, more attuned to stand-up than for sitcom, is much better suited to “The Daily Show” and “Attack of the Show.”

Stick with the shows you’ve actually been watching on Thursday night. “Perfect Couples” is content with simply riding on the coattails of its much funnier and much smarter fellow NBC comedies.