CBS Cancels 'We Are Men': Is Reducing Men To Stereotypes A Recipe For Disaster In The 21st Century?
CBS' male-centric comedy We Are Men has been canceled, officially becoming the second victim of the 2013-2014 television season chopping block. And for good reason. Apart from being moderately offensive to both men and women, the series was simply not smart enough for us. In recent years, both drama and comedy series have made efforts to develop their male characters beyond just being men and/or being funny. It's just not enough anymore. In a nation obsessed with psychology (Princeton Review lists psychology as number two on the list of "Top 10 College Majors") and increasingly intriguing television (from The Sopranos to Breaking Bad to House of Cards) we want our characters with substance and to be complex, not to just skate by on off-color humor. The day of the bros' bro being a character description is over (R.I.P. series like According to Jim and King of Queens). Let's face it: We like our men with enough substance to carry on a conversation.
We Are Men starred Kal Penn (House), Christopher Nicholas Smith (The Mindy Project), Jerry O'Connell (The Defenders) and Tony Shalhoub (Monk) as a group of divorced men that meet in an apartment complex and become friends. The show opened with Carter (Smith) being left at the alter (greetings from the land of The Wedding Singer), which explains how he ended up in the for-divorcées-only safe haven of an apartment complex with the rest of these dudes. In terms of character development, that's basically it. The first and only two episodes of the CBS comedy showed the group of four guys engaging in frat-guy-esque shenanigans just because they're guys, which translates as less funny and more pathetic. And apparently, no one wants to see men banding together to hide from their problems and being reduced down to infantile versions of themselves.
Here's the thing: We like smart TV (even our guilty pleasures have enough substance to keep us hooked). We also like smart and developed characters, including male characters, that challenge us as viewers. Male leads and supporting roles in drama series (think Mad Men, Breaking Bad, Scandal) have already made that a part of their criteria, but why are comedy series still popping up that offer little to nothing (besides terrible humor in We Are Men, and other freshman series like Dads and The Millers)?
The idea of smart developed male-centric comedies isn't revolutionary. Well-developed series like Seinfeld and Frasier aired for nine and 11 seasons, respectively, on NBC and Louie CK's Louie (which happens to male-centric and focused on a divorcée cough cough) has been nominated for multiple Emmys since its premiere in 2010. Even FX's The League, which could contain itself to the fantasy football aspect of the show, awards its characters with "everyday life" issues to tackle. The male cast of New Girl is given enough depth to redeem them for being jerks or just doing face-palm worthy, dumb guy-things. So why would networks premiere new shows like We Are Men and Dads and expect them to succeed and not offend a culture that gobbles up and obsesses over "smart" television?
Sure, the characters of We Are Men have been jilted and/or made mistakes that landed them in the man-children only colony, which is sad and could appeal to our sensitive sides, but they aren't doing anything about it. They comment on the status of marriage and divorce in today's society and then reduce it down to "marriage sucks" which is just not constructive and requires no actual acknowledgment of their real problems while lounging by the pool as if they're on the Hills or Laguna Beach. (Don't you have to go to work?) The men are situated as victims of their own genetics, as if they have no control over their actions and the only excuse is "because we're guys." And that really doesn't equate with being funny and frankly, makes us feel like the creators think we're stupid.
Television shows are becoming more and more intelligent and complex with each new season and we expect our characters to do the same. There's no nostalgia factor for "guys being guys for a sake of being guys." We're too smart for that (and have the psychology degrees to prove it) and are annoyed by any suggestion otherwise. There's a way to make people laugh without reducing their brains to mush by centering shows around characters that are mindless and so simple that they might as well be cardboard cutouts. So take note, male and female-centric show creators alike: We want our characters smart and complex or we don't want them at all.