The makers of the Web series We Need Girlfriends, a lo-fi romantic comedy about cutely clueless dudes, are in the midst of reshaping it for presentation as a CBS pilot—an overhaul that will involve less hauling than you might suppose. Generally, when old-school mass media companies start making eyes at DIY Web impresarios, they’re drawn by freshness. The zeitgeist starts to muss their hair; the sighs of lonelygirl and anarchic squawks of Lonely Island start to sound like the future. We Need Girlfriends, meanwhile, is pure throwback. Rigorously unhip, it catches the beat of the emo-and-MySpace wing of not-quite-youth culture and resets it according to traditional sitcom rhythms. Not for nothing does it habitually reference Saturday morning’s bygone Saved by the Bell.
Adopting a common trope of Web shows, We Need Girlfriends centers on people in their early 20s feeling sorry for themselves. Here, they are three buddies newly living in Queens, N.Y., though that doesn’t matter. The series needn’t even be set in New York. What matters is that, no longer residing in dormitories, these guys have settled someplace large enough to provide ample opportunities for meeting girls who would seem to be out of their league. The characters’ apartment is reportedly the creators’ apartment; thus, painstaking verisimilitude and humble necessity are one and the same, and the artifacts of everyday life in Guyville—say, an Old Spice applicator standing proudly atop a messy bureau—have the look of thoughtful set dressing. The place is a standard post-collegiate hovel, constructed of particleboard and other woodlike materials, with a futon of coffee-ground brown squeakily rubbing against the living-room wall. The roommates haven’t even put forth the effort to make the apartment sink to an energizing level of squalor.
Each of the three men is staggering away from the wreck of a recent relationship, and each has his own way of fearing women: Rod, with his trim beard and mirrored glasses, is the cool guy—a likeable boor, a dimwit, frequently abrasive in the attempt to be sardonic, sexist in a way that’s partly defensive and partly suggestive of stalled socialization. In the second episode, the boys spend a night out at what they assume will be a “sex party” and of course is not. Rod is undeterred: “Hey, man, for me, every party’s a sex party. I’m gonna go stand in the corner and send out some vibes.” Rod tends to wear track jackets.
Henry is the geek—bespectacled, an eager beaver, timid, kind of a wuss. When things finally seem to be progressing with a suitable new girlfriend, his instinct is to refuse his luck. “I can’t help but feel like she’s settling,” he says. “Isn’t there someone better than me we could set her up with?” Henry quite frequently wears sweaters, and you sense that, in the instances that his mother did not literally buy those sweaters for him, he purchased them with her in mind.
This leaves Tom, the hero by virtue of being the tallest and least neurotic. A nice guy and a straight man opposite two jesters, he goes in for baseball shirts and ringed tees.
So, they need girlfriends, though the pursuit of any particular love interest is less important than attaining the state of Boyfriendness—it often seems that any honey in a snug T-shirt will do. The female characters here are hazily defined—not objectified so much as abstracted—and the most powerful emotional bond in the guys’ lives exists among the three of them. They’re always eating together, and, importantly, it’s not always adult food; you see each clutching his own ice pop or a PB&J. They very much welcome third-wheeling around on each other’s dates. The creators of We Need Girlfriends have called it an “anti-Entourage,” a point impossible to argue. The pack mentality, the Rat Pack aspirations, the co-dependent dudehood—the core of the series is a group portrait of self-doubting guys who have not yet begun to make it. They’re huddling together for warmth.
A telling scene finds the trio discovering, early one morning, that Tom’s ex has written a MySpace blog post titled “I Probably Never Loved Tom” and starting to rage about it. The soundtrack gets aggressively gooey, aching with coffeehouse pain, and the camera pulls in on each of three faces:
Rod—with a start, as if he can hear the piano—pipes up, and the music quits. “Wait, uh—is this gonna get serious?” he asks.
The music starts to build again. “Probably,” says Henry.
The music cuts abruptly. “I gotta go,” says Rod, going.
Then Henry and Tom go up to the roof to talk about their feelings and watch the sun rise. The sappy song comes on, for real this time, the score for a pleasant particleboard lesson about love.