Like a lot of big-name film directors, Doug Liman executive produces TV series (one day he’s directing Sean Penn in Fair Game, the next it’s the USA network’s Covert Affairs) and occasionally directs a pilot. His latest is MTV's I Just Want My Pants Back, one more story about a post-college hero searching for sex, a better job and a life; it’s the kind of material that better arrive looking stylish and fresh or it’s dead.
The series had a preview after last night's VMA awards. (The VMA show was so predictably abysmal and middle-of-the-road safe it veered toward People’s Choice Awards territory, so the less said about that the better.)
It’s a good thing Liman directed Pants so briskly and David J. Rosen - who wrote the episode, based on his novel – threw in so many crisp lines. Together they deflect attention from how uninventive the whole series is.
The hero, Jason (Peter Vack), breaks a six-week sexless streak by picking up a beautiful young woman in a bar and taking her back to his place in Brooklyn. (Brooklyn: the universal symbol for poor but hip.) The next morning she borrows his jeans and walks out the door without leaving a number, which leads to what looks like his season-long chase to find the pants and the girl. He likes both of them a lot.
Jason has the obligatory, even more messed up best friend. Here she’s Tina (Kim Shaw) a man-hunter with totally indiscriminate taste. But he is also one of those appealingly muddled heroes, aimless but smarter and more clever than anyone around him.
Sometimes he’s droll.
“I like your shirt,” a conspicuously drunk girl tells him at a party.
“I like your potentially clouded judgment,” he says.
Sometimes he’s so clueless it’s funny. He says he’s thinking of a career in music journalism. (Ha!) .
And sometimes he gets by as a character just because Rosen makes him a smartass. When he notices new surveillance in a local deli, the owner explains, “No one will be robbed, raped or murdered in this store. Not again.”
Jason’s deadpan response: “That’s a good slogan, man, you should put it on your door.”
I Just Want My Pants Back doesn’t approach the originality of Jonathan Ames’ HBO series Bored to Death or the charm of Lena Dunham’s film Tiny Furniture, other recent takes on the endearingly floundering main character. The series’ ambitions are about as low as the title suggests, and there’s no telling what might happen when Liman’s not there to prod it along. But as a pleasant diversion it might go a long way.
The series starts for real in January. This promo gives a better sense of the demographic it’s chasing than of the show itself.