Romantically Challenged TV Review

It’s that dreaded time of year for TV fans again. The time when (looking at ABC, as we are) shows like Castle and The Unusuals get put to the test, fans fall in love, then get to bite their nails. There is often a little more “quirk” to spring premieres, and both of the above-mentioned shows got their hooks in me quick. I would have watched The Unusuals for years, but… you win some, you lose some.

Now we’re getting a fresh crop of possibilities, and first up this year is Romantically Challenged starring Alyssa Milano.

Take a look at (or skip) the official rundown.

From the writer of such irreverent and bold television shows as “Family Guy” and “Politically Incorrect” comes a comedy about four romantically challenged friends in their early thirties navigating their way through today’s tricky world of dating.

Smart and beautiful Rebecca is recently divorced after 15 years of marriage. Having never really dated before she was married – and not having been on a date since Clinton was in office — she finds it scary to start over now. Although a gifted mom and lawyer, she is clueless about dating and hopes to get some help from her equally romantically challenged friends.

Perry is Rebecca’s best friend since childhood. He is a rugged man’s man and a tremendously successful financial planner — but also one of Pittsburgh’s most sensitive hopeless romantics. When it comes to matters of the heart, Perry is a romance-aholic who falls in love with women 20 minutes after meeting them. After 40 minutes, he’s already naming their future children.

A struggling novelist, the witty and affable Shawn has been Perry’s best friend and rent-free roommate for six years. Shawn is the emotionally unavailable cynic to Perry’s hopeless romantic. He has never had a relationship more serious than a three-night stand – and even those send him running for the door.

Rounding out the group is Rebecca’s petite, baby sister, Lisa. Behind her deceptively sweet appearance is a sassy pit bull ready to protect her older sister. Although a nurturing kindergarten teacher, she has a wild side too, and sees a “threesome” as “second base.”

Will these four romantically challenged friends ever find lasting love? Or even someone who lasts until next Thursday?

The show has an interesting team behind it, and one that is fairly telling. That’s especially true of Director/Executive Producer James Burrows, because he directed Will & Grace, and the show is almost off-putting for the similarities.

You’ve got the two guy/two girl dynamic at work, and the relationships match up a little too close for comfort. Perry and Rebecca are best friends, they just don’t have the previous relationship background. Perry is stable, successful, and has plenty of money, while his tag-a-long-ish friend Shawn is a hopeful writer living on Perry’s dime.

Rebecca’s younger sister Lisa is a toned-down, but hopelessly recognizable, Karen Walker, and the interplay of her brusque demeanor and Rebecca’s prim, yet quirky (and Grace-like) sensibilities is the push for much of the show’s comedy.

The show is a tough sell, and I don’t think I can recommend putting in the investment. While Alyssa Milano manages a pretty solid character, and the rest of the cast does a fine job as well, this is a show that is practically the definition of that which needs a bit of a run to get itself grounded. This is a show that isn’t going to really get good (if it does) until at least 10 or so episodes in, and that kind of wait time just isn’t the season we’re in. This isn’t rocket out of the gates and take the world by storm material. Which is fine enough as far as I’m concerned (Will & Grace wasn’t exactly awesome right away either), but not what generally makes it past the spring.

Considering that I found myself thinking, “Hey, this is straight Will & Grace,” even before I caught on that Burrows was connected to the show, I’m moved toward the old “Good and Original” quote, except that I can’t actually ferret out the original part.

That said, there’s a certain charm to the show. It appears the characters are going to spend a good deal of time meeting at their local coffeehouse, and while that might lead you to think of Friends, it might be in a good way. There’s a vibe similar to the earliest episodes of Friends which isn’t borrowed, but is instead simply the kind of character connection that comes through. I suspect that given the opportunity, I’d really like episode thirty.

Though my intro sounds exceedingly negative, this is the sort of show I’d rather be championing. Much like Burrows’ other show on now Gary Unmarried (which I love), this could do well enough to provide a decent choice for those who connect with it.

It’s not a bad show, and there are some laughs. It’s hard to deny the appeal of the Lisa character, even if you do start calling her Karen. The trouble is, it’s not a particularly good show at this point, and while you may enjoy the first episode, your reaction the next day is probably in the “meh” range. At best, it’s unlikely to do well enough to last long.

This is basically worst, or most dangerous, case scenario unfortunately, because if this came out in the fall I’d probably be telling you to give it a shot. I’d feel guilty doing so now.

RU?

Marc Eastman is the owner and operator of Are You Screening? and has been writing film reviews for over a decade, and several branches of the internet's film review world have seen his name. He is also a member of The Broadcast Film Critics Association and The Broadcast Television Journalists Association.