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Third-episode verdict: Marry Me (US: NBC; UK: E4)

Posted on November 3, 2014 | Post a comment | Bookmark and Share

BarrometerMarryMe.jpgA Barrometer rating of 3

In the US: Tuesdays, 9/8c, NBC
In the UK: Acquired by E4. Will air late 2014/early 2015

Romance is officially dead. Manhattan Love Story was the first of the US Autumn shows to get cancelled, and A To Z has just been given its marching orders, leaving the not-especially-romantic Selfie and NBC’s Marry Me as the last of the potential suitors, forlornly looking around in the hope that their dates are going to show up some time soon.

To be honest, though, I’d be surprised if Marry Me wasn’t stood up soon, too. Based on the real-life meeting and eventual marriage of writer David Caspe and actress Casey Wilson, it runs through the gamut of relationship events that can occur leading up to and following a marriage proposal (episode one), from moving in together (episode two) through to, erm, Halloween (episode three). And with Caspe (Happy Endings) writing and both Wilson and Ken Marino (Party Down) starring, it should be good.

Unfortunately, the most it ever does is make you admire it and occasionally smile wryly. As I said in the first episode, it clearly wants to be the new I Love Lucy, to the extent – it turns out – that Marino and Wilson actually dress up as Arnaz and Ball for Halloween. But really, despite some good writing, it’s never actually very funny. It tries hard to be edgy, to the extent of, say, blurring out the screen and beeping over dialogue to avoid nude and verbal indiscretions. But it’s that knowing edginess and the writers' tendency to take what could be a good short, one-scene joke and then milk it for an entire episode that undermines its efforts.

It’s not without value and it’s enjoyable in its own way. But I’m not sure it’s a keeper.

Barrometer rating: 3
Rob’s prediction: Will last a season but not more than that unless it’s very, very lucky.

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Preview: Benched 1x1 (US: USA)

Posted on October 18, 2014 | Post a comment | Bookmark and Share

Benched

In the US: Tuesdays, 10.30/9.30c, USA. Starts October 28

And lo! It came to pass that the USA Network, the motto of which was “Characters Welcome”, decided that it was going to make comedies. Because if you make hour-long dramas and comedy-dramas, surely half-hour comedies are just as simple, right?

And first it did commission a weak-arse adaptation of Channel 4’s Sirens that still managed to be one of 2014’s best-rated basic cable comedies. And then it did commission Playing House, which made the weak-arse Sirens look like Fawlty Towers.

Then after a mere eight months of thinking about whether it was sure about this whole comedy thing, it did commission a third comedy, Benched, which apparently was enough for USA because although they’re ‘fully committed’ to it (translated: will drop it like a hot potato as soon as possible), there are going to be no more USA comedies for the foreseeable future.

So let’s appropriately enough start shouting “Dead man walking!” as Benched trundles across our screens, waiting for its imminent execution. It’s a shame really, because it stars Eliza Coupe, who after starring in both Scrubs and Happy Endings, would normally be onto better things than her Happy Endings colleague Casey Wilson, yet who has the (slightly) superior Marry Me on NBC. Coupe plays a corporate lawyer who’s first dumped by her fiancé and then overlooked for partner at her firm, prompting an outburst (and demolition) at her firm so strong that she’s not able to work in corporate law any more and is forced to take a job as a public defender. There she meets a motley collection of similarly failed lawyers and demented defendants, and has to do her best to both survive and look after those she’s charged with defending.

And there’s a guy. There’s always a guy.

Coupe does her best and the script does explore areas of the law that most legal shows don’t bother with, ranging from why you should be nice to security guards to the shoddy treatment that the poor get at the hands of the law. But despite all Coupe’s delivery as well as physical comedy skills, the show is woefully unfunny, with a script bereft of any jokes that might cause you do anything more than smile or titter. While the characters are at least more bearable than those in Sirens and have greater maturity than gnats, unlike those in Playing House, a particularly sarcastic judge that Coupe has to deal with is really the only one you’d voluntarily see again, and basing a series on Coupe’s legal wrangles with her ex- as a proxy for their relationship issues doesn’t really make you want to watch more than another one or two episodes tops.

Benched could get better over time, but we’re talking about a pretty poor foundation for everything. And given how little USA apparently wants to stay in the comedy business, I doubt the show will get renewed after its first season unless it gets some very, very good ratings.

So pray for Coupe to get something better, but expect Benched to be benched before the year is out.

Here endeth the lesson, but starteth the trailer. You may titter at it a bit.

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Review: Marry Me 1x1 (US: NBC; UK: E4)

Posted on October 17, 2014 | Post a comment | Bookmark and Share

Marry Me

In the US: Tuesdays, 9/8c, NBC
In the UK: Acquired by E4. Will air late 2014/early 2015

And let the Fall 2014 rom-com trend continue! Hot on the heels of Marriage, You're The Worst, Selfie and Manhattan Love Story, here comes NBC’s Marry Me, a companion piece to the network's other new rom-com, A to Z, which rather than showing us a couple meeting and doing the whole “will they, won’t they” thing for six seasons instead starts off six years into the relationship with the couple still unmarried and not even living together. Which is at least novel for an American show and indeed relationship, which normally follows the six months/one year move in, one year to two years proposal/get married, two to four years to first child rule with iron-clad inevitability.

However, both do want to get married. The trouble is that while the man (Ken Marino from the much-missed Party Down) is relatively stable and normal, the woman (Casey Wilson from the much-missed Happy Endings) is something of a ditz who causes the worst possible things in the world to happen - much of the first episode revolves around Wilson comprehensive cocking up of both Marino’s and her marriage proposals, lives, friendships, etc, while flashing back to those first six years of equally epic cock-ups.

It’s no real spoiler to say that by the end of the episode, the happy couple are eventually engaged, with the rest of the series set to be about their next, inevitably bumpy journey - this time towards actually getting married. But the show’s real theme is a questioning of the standard rom-com trope of ‘the sign’: with that many disasters occurring to the proposal, is it a ‘sign' they aren’t supposed to be together or is the fact they still end up together and do get engaged a sign that they are supposed to be together?

As you might expect from the fact Marry Me is from the creator of Happy Endings David Caspe - who based this show’s premise on his recent marriage to Wilson - the writing’s a notch above the usual and is both quite ‘meta’ and literary, with characters frequently stopping to analyse their situation and to subvert their own language. The show’s also set in Chicago and has a suitable degree of diversity, with Wilson’s character being the progeny of two gay dads, one white, one black, both called Kevin, and a lesbian surrogate. And the show’s largely all about Wilson, with much of the fun stemming from her character’s “being in the moment” and generally putting her foot in her mouth, not being that graceful (a yoga class is particularly entertaining, with its instructor continually damning her with faint praise) and making a mess of things.

Marino’s role, by contrast, is explicitly duller, he being the conventional rock that stabilises her dementedness, almost the Desi Arnaz to Wilson’s Lucille Ball. He makes the best of it, but ultimately he’s not thrown much by way of a bone throughout the first episode.

Certainly, of the network rom-coms, while not a patch on You’re The Worst, it’s the best by far of the bunch, being not only smarter and funnier but also having engaging, likeable characters you want to see do well. However, in common with a lot of NBC comedies, it’s more wry funny than laugh out loud funny - you admire the cleverness of the writing rather than actually roll about on the floor giggling a lot of the time, and as with the show's first five-minute long marriage proposal scene, it really tries to milk every moment for all its worth, way past the point where there’s anything left.

So while it’s certainly one to at least try, I’ll be surprised if it acquires more than a cult following. Of course, I’ll hang around until episode three to see if much changes now the marriage proposals are out the way and Marino gets something decent to do. But largely this is a show that’s there, rather than having any real need to exist or anything truly unique to add to the rom-com mix.

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