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TELEVISION REVIEW

Male idiocy on display in ‘Franklin & Bash’

Breckin Meyer (left) and Mark-Paul Gosselaar in TNT’s frat-boy-like courtroom drama ‘‘Franklin & Bash.’’ Breckin Meyer (left) and Mark-Paul Gosselaar in TNT’s frat-boy-like courtroom drama ‘‘Franklin & Bash.’’ (annette brown)
By Matthew Gilbert
Globe Staff / June 1, 2011

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You know how there are shows about “Animal House’’ partying and juvenile idiocy and they are dumb fun and you wouldn’t want to watch them with your mother or your college professors but you still somehow manage to find enough time to see them anyway?

Well “Franklin & Bash’’ is not one of those shows. “Franklin & Bash,’’ premiering tonight at 9 on TNT, is not a guilty pleasure, because there’s no pleasure here to regret, just strained, sexist, frat-boy self-love. The goal is to drop a Judd Apatow bromance — between Breckin Meyer’s Jared Franklin and Mark-Paul Gosselaar’s Peter Bash — into a wacky David E. Kelley courtroom dramedy, but the result has none of Apatow’s sweetness and all of Kelley’s worst, quirk-filled impulses. It’s a headache cocktail.

The fact that TNT has scheduled “Franklin & Bash’’ as the summer lead-in for one of its best series, “Men of a Certain Age,’’ is programming irony of the worst kind. The new show celebrates the bratty, smarmy side of masculinity, with a pair of young lawyers who tirelessly remind us they are too cool for the room. “Men of a Certain Age,’’ meanwhile, is a light, poignant glimpse at the humanity lurking beneath the flatness of male cultural roles. Turn to TNT at 10 and save yourself the disruptive elevator ride from the bottom to the top.

When friends and legal partners Franklin and Bash aren’t chasing ambulances, they spend time debating entertainment matters involving the likes of Jessica Rabbit and “The Flintstones.’’ It’s a challenge to write post-Quentin Tarantino guy banter that is more than just hipster filler — banter that brings out something of the guys’ characters. The “Franklin & Bash’’ writers, including executive producers Kevin Falls and Bill Chais, fail on that score, as the boys only seem to be bragging about their pop-culture knowledge like high school sophomores.

In the courtroom, Franklin and Bash are anarchic and theatrical — see the witness remove her blouse on the stand! See Franklin get thrown in jail for undermining the judge! — which catches the eye of the head of a major law firm played by Malcolm McDowell. He wants to shake up his firm, especially his uptight nephew, played by Reed Diamond, and so he gives Franklin and Bash a pair of gorgeous offices and carte blanche. “You’re F. Lee Bailey meets Barnum & Bailey,’’ he excitedly tells them, simultaneously describing the guiding principle of the series. He’s a bit of a nut himself, and he finds vicarious enjoyment through the escapades of his scrappy new hires — such as when they brawl on the courtroom steps to draw the media away from a client’s disastrous press conference.

The show is filled with sideshow acts, including a clean-freak legal researcher with agoraphobia (Kumail Nanjiani) and a driven attorney (Garcelle Beauvais) who seems willing to sleep her way to the top. The boys often retreat to their man-cave-like home office, where they play video games, dance with hot women, drink from the full bar, and sweat it out in the hot tub, which gives Gosselaar an opportunity to reveal his backside tonight. (As a nod to McDowell, the office includes posters from his movies, including “A Clockwork Orange.) And the cases are contrived to titillate: a professional dominatrix trying to prove she’s not a prostitute, for instance, and a woman accused of “intentionally oversexing’’ her husband to death.

But none of these tightrope walkers, clowns, or jugglers succeeds in making “Franklin & Bash’’ less than annoying or more than male exhibitionism. It’s a circus, but far from the greatest show on earth.

Matthew Gilbert can be reached at gilbert@globe.com. For more on TV, visit www.boston.com/ae/tv/blog.

FRANKLIN & BASH Starring: Breckin Meyer, Mark-Paul Gosselaar, Malcolm McDowell, Reed Diamond

On: TNT

Time: Tonight, 9-10