By Kara Gheldof

The premise for Fox’s newest midseason sitcom Traffic Light sounds eerily familiar to half a dozen others on TV right now: two couples in various stages of their relationship and their chronic bachelor friend enjoy the trials and tribulations of everyday life. Certainly the comparisons can be made with shows like Rules of Engagement, Better With You, Perfect Couples, and How I Met Your Mother, not to mention the show’s Israeli counterpart, “Ramzor.” Indeed, it’s another foreign import, Americanized to maximize appeal that it probably still won’t get, but don’t let any of this familiar territory scare you away; Traffic Light is worth the watch.

At the center of the story are three former college friends, Mike, Adam, and Ethan, now in their thirties and representing ‘red,’ ‘yellow.’ and ‘green’ lights respectively. Mike (David Denham, whom some might remember as ‘Roy’ from The Office), married with one kid, is at the stage in his life where he must stop and reflect before moving forward. He is having a hard time adjusting to the responsibilities of fatherhood but his marriage (to NCIS alum, Liza Lapira) generally seems happy. Adam (relative unknown Nelson Franklin) just moved in with his girlfriend (Aya Cash), and must proceed with caution. Ethan (Kris Marshall) is eternally single and seemingly committed only to his pet bulldog. He is a brash Brit with few reservations and nothing to hold him in one place.

The thing that works best about Traffic Light isn’t just the quick, snappy dialogue or the embedded sense of realism that is missing from some of the more gimmicky sitcoms, it’s how comfortable each of the actors seem with their characters after just a single episode. Despite the stereotypes, no one is annoying and they have chemistry with each other. Ironically, this comes across best in the scenes where the actors aren’t even together, communicating via conference call on their daily commutes. On the road, as in real life, they distract one another, often leading to comical mishaps, such as the same lady cop pulling Adam over twice or Adam convincing Mike to skip his wife’s work function to play a wrestler clown at a Bar Mitzvah.

But what really drew this episode together for me—and what will lure me back in the weeks to come—is the twist at the end. There used to be a fourth to their group: Ben, who loved Chumbawumba maybe a little too much (as seen in a flashback), and once convinced his friends to take a cross-state car trip entirely via surface streets, turning a 3-hour trip into 7 hours. At first we are led to believe Ben didn’t fit in and grew apart, but the final scene at a baseball field dedicated to Ben’s memory—narrated by a nostalgic speech by Adam—tells us otherwise. It was a surprising turn, and you may find yourself on the hook wondering how Ben fits into all this.

For a while Traffic Light was known as Mixed Signals, which isn’t a bad name, but it was a good idea to switch to the former for the inherent metaphor it sets up. There’s a lot to explore in the stop and go of this period in life, and a lot of potential to be memorable; here’s to hoping that Fox gives it the green light, instead of leaving us stuck in traffic.

© Kara Gheldof, 2011