WORDS: JEFF KASSANOFF ('15), CONTRIBUTOR.
Anyone who has been in a long-term relationship can tell you that the best parts of love are not the big, flashy moments. The initial attraction, the first kiss, becoming official, on Facebook or otherwise - yes, these moments can be thrilling, and yes, they can be joyous, but they are also universal. The best parts of love are the moments in between: the small connections and shared intimacies that seem almost impossibly unique. The same is true of a TV show. The shows that pack in action and intrigue ad nauseum never seem to have as much impact as the shows that build to those moments slowly, through the careful development of unique characters.
NBC’s latest answer to “How I Met Your Mother,” a romantic sitcom called “A to Z,” is a show that explicitly claims to be about those small moments. In narration, we are told that the show will chronicle in detail the ups and downs of an eight-month relationship between the cutesily named Andrew and Zelda. And while that is a noble goal, it is one the series seems to have no interest in pursuing seriously. Rather than develop the characters necessary to make such a premise interesting, “A to Z” seems content to paint rom-com clichés in the broadest strokes.
The episode opens with narration ripped from 500 Days of Summer - but missing that film’s subversive slant - that neatly outlines the psychological origins of the leads’ equally misguided attitudes about love. Andrew, the fool for love, is a perfect mismatch for Zelda’s romantic cynicism (which, don’t worry, is abandoned by the end of the episode). Through several - yes, several - meet-cutes, the two develop an attraction, and then a rapport, and eventually agree to a date. But, when Andrew comes on too strong by suggesting they are meant to be together, Zelda flees, leaving Andrew to prove that he is right. Amazingly, he does just that, and they are kissing by episode’s end. For a show that should be interested in the nitty-gritty of its central couple’s relationship, “A to Z” instead packs a full romantic comedy’s worth of drama into its opening episode, surely a bad omen for the series to come.
Andrew and Zelda are backed up respectively by wacky best friends who seem happily resigned to their supporting roles, given no interests or desires of their own. Throughout the episode, the writers alternate Andrew’s monologues about his feelings for Zelda with best friend Stu’s random comedy bits, in their best impression of a conversation.
It’s all very cute - sincerely. Cristin Milioti (Zelda) rescues a lot of the pilot with the same charm she brought to the shows’ prototype, “How I Met Your Mother,” as the title character. And Ben Feldman (Andrew) is the perfect rom-com leading man. To quote this summer’s romantic comedy parody, They Came Together, Ben is “handsome, but in a nonthreatening way; vaguely but not overtly Jewish.” The show moves along breezily and goes down easy; if it lasts past a season, it seems destined to become the type of show people let play in the background while they slog through work.
What it probably won’t be is the long-term serialized fan favorite it seems to be aiming for. It is hard to imagine where the series will even go from here. While “How I Met Your Mother” extended the rom-com formula indefinitely by building a mystery, “A to Z” seems to have played all of its cards already. By episode one, its couple is together - and we know exactly how long they’re going to last. It’s going to take a lot of character work to get us to care about the in between. If you are looking for a weekly candy-coated rom-com fix, look no further: “A to Z” is sweet, empty fun. But if you are looking for a great television series, or hilarious characters, or anything resembling the mysterious and involving mythology of “HIMYM”… well, keep looking.