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By Merle Bertrand | March 25, 2004

Pretend that “Friends” never happened. Now pretend that you’re a sitcom writer who’s got an idea for a show that’s a lot like “Friends,” except that it’s racier; a better fit for a cable outlet like HBO, rather than a traditional broadcast network. That, my friends, is pretty much what we have here with “Knots.”

Although Dave (Scott Cohen) and his wife Gretta (Annabeth Gish) have just moved into a new apartment, the decorating blank slate all around them can’t compensate for the joyless, avoid-talking-about-it-at-all-costs abyss that is their marriage. Lily (Paulina Porizkova) doesn’t even know the details, but she quickly picks up on Dave’s unhappiness right away at a neighborhood bar, despite the latter’s desperate attempt to foist her attentions on his nice guy pal, Jake (Michael Leydon Campbell), who’s still pissed off at their lady’s man friend Cal (John Stamos) for sleeping with one of his dates. When Dave and Jake take the gals on an ill-advised double date, it leads to an affair between Lily and Gretta — and Gretta’s subsequent realization that she’s a lesbian — causing Dave’s world to fall apart around him. And when Cal’s advice is for Dave to do as he does and sleep around as much as possible, even though he’s already got a wonderful girlfriend, Emily (Tara Reid), the situation only gets worse. For everyone.

“Knots” may have been an “edgy” romantic comedy some ten years ago, say, before “Friends,” for instance, but it’s all fairly pat and predictable nowadays.

That’s not to say that director Greg Lombardo’s ode to infidelity is a total waste of time. With solid performances, an attractive cast, and its fair share of passable screwball comedic mayhem, this romantic tangle will make a perfect DVD rental for girlfriends or spouses to watch on one TV while the guys sit, glued to ESPN or the NFL Playoffs on another.

Just be ready in case the omnisexual Lily turns on your girlfriend or spouse as much as she did Gretta. Now, that’s an area that “Friends” never really did explore with Rachel, Monica, or Phoebe. Darn it.

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