After 9 years on “One Tree Hill,” Sophia Bush could have taken some time off to travel the world, or focus on her many charitable endeavors, or get in some quality time with her girlfriends, or enjoy living near her family again in Los Angeles. Instead, she was the first lead actor cast in CBS sitcom “Partners,” from “Will and Grace” creators David Kohan and Max Mutchnick.
(And you’d better believe she still manages to make time for travel, activism, family, and friends. We keep trying to find out her secret… she might be an superhero, and/or a very pretty android. We’ll keep you posted.)
When “One Tree Hill” wrapped, Bush didn’t intend to rush into a new project. “I’m reading a lot, and I’m looking to find what inspires me, and what really sparks my interest, and what’s going to make me want to give up my life the way I gave up my life for ['One Tree Hill'],” she told us in January. “I’m already being pitched some really excellent material and I feel like whatever is supposed to happen, will. I know that’s a little hippie-dippy, but that’s me.”
But when she read “Partners,” she didn’t hesitate for a second. “I found myself laughing out loud while I was reading the script for the first time. I don’t do that very often. I don’t laugh out loud, alone on my couch, like some weirdo in my house. I was like, ‘What is that sound? Oh, that sound is me! That’s me laughing!’ I just loved it,” she says.
In its nine seasons, “One Tree Hill” had very few gay characters. We saw a closeted bisexual teenage girl (who stuck around less than one season) and later a conniving, closeted actor willing to sacrifice anyone to keep his secret. As a dedicated and often ferocious ally for marriage equality and civil rights, it makes sense that Bush chose a project that had a little more balance when it came to the sexual orientation of its characters.
Bush plays Ali, a jewelry designer engaged to Joe (David Krumholtz). Their relationship is complicated, though, by Joe’s undying platonic forever-kind-of-love for his best friend, Louis (Michael Urie). Louis’ partner, Wyatt (Brandon Routh) is similarly perplexed by Louis’ and Joe’s codependence. Ultimately, the four of them become their own, lopsided family unit, joking that there are “four people, but three couples” in the gang.
“I loved what it had to say, and you know me, I am a gay man trapped in a woman’s body,” she jokes. “So it was just so exciting to think about being on a show…” She trails off and pauses as she considers her words. “It’s not like we have a big agenda, but we’re just reminding people that the gay relationship and the straight relationship on our show are the same.”
Indeed, “Partners” is anything but preachy. The show leaves the heavy-handed campaigning and politics to “The New Normal” and “Glee.” Instead, “Partners” simply presents the couples as they are. Louis and Wyatt debate having children the way any couple would — there’s no angsting over whether having two dads would damage a baby, because the show feels no need to condescend to its viewer by presenting a question with an obvious answer.
“The friendship between the two guys is like anybody else’s friendship, but one of the guys is checking out men and one of the guys is checking out women,” Bush says, shrugging. “I think sometimes it’s nice to take the mystery out of something. There’s nothing taboo happening here. We’re just talking about love; we’re talking about relationships. We’re talking about the humor that happens when you have a really really old-standing friendship between two people. We’re asking, ‘Do those peoples’ significant others compete with the history and the shorthand of the friendship?’”
That’s not to say Bush doesn’t get a little thrill out of being part of the culture shift. “It wasn’t like I went, ‘Ooh, I want to do a show about equality!’ But I read it, and was like, ‘Hello?! Has there ever been something more perfect for me? No! This. Is. Mine.’”
“Partners” is a multicam sitcom filmed in front of a live audience, so it’s definitely got an old-school feeling, particularly with shows like “Modern Family” and “Happy Endings” redefining the sitcom format these days. While critics may not be crowing about multicams, “The Big Bang Theory” and “Two and a Half Men” prove year after year that there’s still an audience (a huge, enormous, gigantic freakin’ audience) for the more traditional format. “Partners” exposes that audience to a new kind of family without political anvils and without making jokes at the expense of the gay characters.
“I think it’s time for America to see something like that on a weekly basis that they’re not used to having in their living rooms every week,” Routh says.
“Honestly, it’s cheesy or whatever, but I’m honored to be a part of it,” Bush adds. “I feel like the luckiest girl in the world.”
Tune in Mondays at at 8:30 p.m. EST on CBS. It’s funny, it’s dirty, and, even for those of us who will never quite get over “One Tree Hill’s” Brooke Davis, it’s downright refreshing.