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Review: 100 Questions 1x1-1x3

Posted on June 15, 2010 | Post a comment | Bookmark and Share

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In the US: Thursdays, 8.30/7.30c, NBC

If you were a historical character, who would you be? Rasputin? Gandhi? Beethoven?

If NBC were a historical character, it would be Robert the Bruce, because no matter what happens, it will just try, try, try again.

Friends has gone. Friends is dead. NBC misses it terribly. It tried to do Friends again with Coupling and failed horribly. Now, it's giving it yet another go with 100 Questions, in which five friends all try to help each other through life's uncertainties and love - and we get to see them as the main character, Englishwoman Charlotte Payne, goes to a dating agency and answers 100 questions about herself.

But the signs haven't been promising. The show was retitled 100 Questions from the slightly quirkier 100 Questions for Charlotte Payne. After the pilot, two of the friends were recast (one of them now being played by Smith Cho, who is being given a retry after appearing on another NBC re-try, Knight Rider). The whole thing was reshot. The episode count was dropped from 13 episodes to six and the show was moved to a Summer slot. The star of the show has moved back to England and got married. And if you were expecting NBC to actually tell you the show was on, well, oops - what a mistake to make. I didn't notice until last Thursday, just before the third episode.

Despite these signs, it's not half bad. And that half is Sophie Winkleman - Big Suze from Channel 4's Peep Show. Here, have a shiny NBC trailer that features the original cast: you'll still get the drift, even if it's actually not as good as the updated version.

Plot
"100 Questions" is a new comedy series written and executive produced by Christopher Moynihan ("For Your Consideration") that provides hilarious answers to 100 questions about love.

Charlotte Payne (Sophie Winkleman, "Peep Show") is looking for love and has rejected multiple marriage proposals -- but she has yet to meet Mr. Right. When she joins a popular online dating site, she gets a little help from her dating counselor Andrew (Michael Benjamin Washington, "Mamma Mia") - who requires her to take a 100-question compatibility test. The questions aren't easy for Charlotte to answer, and each one requires her to recount a poignant and humorous time in her life with friends Leslie (Smith Cho, "Fired Up!"), Jill (Collette Wolfe, "17 Again"), Mike (Christopher Moynihan, "For Your Consideration") and Wayne (David Walton, NBC's "Quarterlife"). The test becomes a journey of self-discovery for Charlotte who begins to realize what she truly wants in a relationship. Ron West ("Psych"), Kelly Kulchak ("Psych") and Michelle Nader ("King of Queens") join Moynihan as executive producers. The series is produced by Universal Media Studios and Tagline.

Is it any good?
Surprisingly, every episode does feature at least five laughs, which is five more than most sitcoms these days. It's reasonably amiable. The Friends - sorry, friends - do mess with each other a bit rather than act like actual friends for the most part, but they're not at the sniping level of late Friends. Sophie Winkleman is very charming and gives her lines depth. The situations the characters get involved in are sitcom-ludicrous, but not too stupid and are actually quite fun: being proposed to by your boyfriend at a baseball match and having to turn him down - then realising you've still got the ring the next day; not being sure if a new female friend is gay or not; being asked to pretend to be a fireman for a kids career day; trying to artificially create romance with a guy to the extent of ignoring other opportunities. The characters even all have jobs and you actually see them doing them.

The framing narrative (again with a new member of cast as the dating agency's interviewer) works quite nicely, with the whole thing done in flashback, so that Charlotte gradually learns from her experiences each week. One of the friends is set up as a potential love interest in the first episode, but we know that she's not with him since she's at the dating agency. Presumably, the reflection over her experiences will - if we ever get that far - have her realise at the end who the right guy for her really is, and it's not going to be anyone she meets through the agency (the 100th question presumably sending her away from the agency to Mr Right, although maybe he does propose to her they have a long romance, they break up, and then she realises she still wants in in the final episode. Let your imagination go to work).

Characters
Basically, the scripts are okay with some originality on top of a collection of sitcom clichés that aren't too overdone. The problem with the show which probably caused NBC to abandon ship is that although Charlotte is fine as a character, her friends aren't and while Sophie Winkleman is fine as Charlotte, the other actors aren't. And that's despite the recasting.

Possible love interest (David Walton) is supposed to be drop-dead gorgeous and he is attractive - just not as attractive as the scripts require. His character is also a largely unappealing layabout. The other male character is a girly-man who screams at spiders and just about everything. The two female friends are split between having impossibly high standards in men (still getting over an ex) and having impossibly low standards in men (as long as they have a good bank balance, that'll do). All of them come very close to being quite good but never quite hit the mark. You can imagine how someone like Jennifer Aniston would know how to make the scripts work, but unfortunately, the actors here don't quite manage.

Over time, I'm sure the show could pick up and find its feet, work out what works and what doesn't, and becoming a whole lot sharper. But it hasn't got time. It's got three episodes and then it's dead. Which is a shame, since NBC could do with a few more decent sitcoms.

I'm sure they'll try again though.

Carusometer rating: 3
Rob's prediction: Doomed

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