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Stereotypes abound in ‘My Best Friends’

But the gay cliches are matched by the Italian cliches

SHARE Stereotypes abound in ‘My Best Friends’

The new CBS sitcom "Some of My Best Friends" is just loaded with stereotypes and cliches — the only question is which are more pronounced, the stereotypes about gays or the stereotypes about Italian-Americans.

It's probably pretty much a tie.

This series, which debuts Wednesday at 7 p.m. on Ch. 2, is based on the 1997 film "Kiss Me Guido" — one gay, one straight — who share an apartment.

They become roommates when Frankie (Danny Nucci) answers an ad looking for a "GWM" roommate — and Frankie assumes that means "Guy With Money."

As you can see already, Frankie isn't too bright.

His new roommate, Warren (Jason Bateman), is a writer who's somewhat down on his luck and who needs someone to share expenses because his boyfriend just left. Rather suddenly.

When Frankie finally figures it out, he's aghast and wants out. "There's nothing against you. I mean, as far as homos go, you seem like a stand-up guy," he says.

This being the basis of the sitcom however, you know he's not going anywhere. But that sets the tone for the comedy.

"Aren't you guys always singin' or somethin'?" Frankie asks.

"Actually, I keep pretty busy with prancing and mincing," Warren says.

And there gay stereotypes galore in the first couple of episodes — they don't know anything about sports, they're not athletic, and they love Barbra Streisand, Eartha Kitt and show tunes.

Vern (Alex Mapa), Warren's rather, um, flamboyant gay best friend, tests Frankie:

"Frankie," Vern says, "finish this sentence — clang, clang, clang went the . . .

"Firetruck," Frankie says.

"He's a breeder," Vern announces.

Openly gay executive producer/writer Marc Cherry ("Golden Girls"), however, maintains that stereotypes often have a basis in fact.

"What's tough about that is that when I sit down to write, I'm trying to take stuff from my life that I used because it's the truth of my own life," Cherry said.

Not that Frankie is any less stereotypical — he's a big, dumb galoot whose Italian-American family is dominated by his mother and whose parents run the family restaurant. His best friend (also Italian-American), Pino (Michael DeLuise) is as dumb as a post and incredibly sexist.

"They don't get gays, they don't get lesbians. They just got Jews a couple of years ago," Frankie says in the second episode.

And some of their friends are even worse.

"My friends are good guys. They're just not as evolved as Pino and me," Frankie says.

"That could only mean that they peel bananas with their feet," Warren retorts.

But, like Warren and Vern, Cherry insists that Frankie and Pino are based on real people.

"Well, I talked a lot to Tony Vitale, who wrote and directed the movie and was helpful to us when we were getting this project of the ground, about that," Cherry said. "And the thing is that (there's) a certain amount of the homophobic aspect in the Italian-American community, particularly in the Bronx, Tony was, like, 'It's true. There's a lot of these people that just don't get the gay thing at all.' "

Which is not to say that "Some of My Best Friends" isn't sometimes very funny. There are some great one-liners — it's not as witty as "Will & Grace" is at its best, but it has its moments.

And the comparisons to "Will & Grace" are inevitable — gay roommate, straight roommate. And Vern is more like "Will & Grace's" Jack — the, um, flamboyant best friend — than perhaps was wise.

But there are differences as well. Whereas "Will & Grace" is populated almost entirely by characters who are either gay or gay-friendly, "Some of My Best Friends" makes more of the differences between gay and straight.

"The gay thing is just a springboard for the differences in our personalities," Bateman said. "I think the show is much more similar to 'The Odd Couple' than it is to 'Will & Grace.' Or at least that's our goal."

Good goal. Not there yet.

GOOD ANSWER: Jason Bateman's official CBS bio includes a statement you don't often see — that he's "engaged to be married in July 2001." Which led one critic to inquire as to whether that had anything to do with the fact that Bateman is playing a gay man in the new sitcom.

"Yes," Bateman replied. "And he's a wonderful man."

(He was, of course, kidding.)

And he said it wasn't his idea to include that in the bio. "I didn't know it was in there, I swear," Bateman said.

E-mail: pierce@desnews.com