In the US: Mondays, 8.30/7.30c, CBS
CBS is the most popular of all US networks, but it does have an odd tendency. Whenever it has a successful show, it likes to create a backup in case things go wrong with it. So CSI spawned CSI: Miami and CSI: New York; NCIS got NCIS: LA; Criminal Minds is about to get Criminal Minds: Suspect Behavior; and so on.
Sometimes, rather than create a simple spin-off, though, CBS likes to create a show similar to the original. So it is with Mad Love, a sneaky backup in case How I Met Your Mother gets corrupted. The basic premise is pretty much the same: two guys, two girls, two interesting, two not, and there are romantic complications. Here, Jason Biggs (American Pie), a very ordinary lawyer, meets Sarah Chalke (Scrubs), a very ordinary… actually, I missed what she did, but whatever it is, it’s probably very ordinary. Whatever – it’s love at first sight, there’s fireworks and everything.
Each has a much more interesting best friend: Tyler Labine (Reaper), an eccentric lawyer, and Judy Greer (Archer), a nanny who helps brain-dead trophy wives rear their kids. For them, it’s hate at first sight, but you just know that’s going to change.
And as is the trouble with carbon copies, it’s just not as good as the originals. In fact, against a backdrop of the likes of Traffic Light, Perfect Couples and Better With You, it’s a very pale copy that can barely raise a single laugh. Talking of Traffic Light, do you want to have a guess who was in the pilot but got recast again?
MAD LOVE is a comedy about a quartet of New Yorkers – two who are falling in love and two who despise each other… at least for now. Ben, a lawyer, is a hopeless romantic trying to build a relationship with Kate, a beautiful, smart girl whom Ben thinks is the woman of his dreams. Larry, Ben’s unrefined best friend and co-worker, is a guy who doesn’t believe in love and has a long track record as the third wheel. Connie, Kate’s roommate, works as a nanny and finds Larry aggravating… or does she? Larry and Connie have a lot in common, but refuse to let their guard down long enough to see it.
Is it any good?
It’s bland. Very, very bland. There’s nothing much really going on here, none of the characters are markedly different or offer anything new you haven’t seen before. The pilot episode leaves you knowing pretty much where the whole series is going, so you don’t really need to watch any more episodes. It’s just kind of there.
The episode is pretty much the usual thing you’ve probably come to expect of rom-coms. Boy and girl fall in love, except one of them’s still in a relationship – oh, do you think that might lead to a mix-up that will need fixing? It’s all right, it’ll be fixed by the end of the episode. Meanwhile, the two comedy sidekicks get to do implausible comedic things – eg run at the gym wearing jeans/a hoodie and dark glasses – in an effort to distract from the fact the two lead characters are as dull as ditchwater.
And they really are colossally dull. Sarah Chalke does do her best with an exceedingly bland character and some exceedingly bland lines (if I had a pound for every time a female character in a romcom said, “I thought he was different but it turns out he’s just like every other guy”, I would be a squintillion-billionaire by now I reckon), her highpoint – and sure sign that her character is “the one” – being a reference to a red phone being like Commissioner Gordon’s in Batman. Biggs’s character is a nothing – if you thought Ted in How I Met Your Mother was a shapeless amoeba of a character, wait till you see this guy. If it weren’t for Greer and Labine milking as much comedy as they can from every scene, a nation of CBS viewers would have fallen asleep mid-episode.
Perhaps the only decent line of dialogue, which picks up a recurring motif of “Why isn’t life like fairy tales?”, is when Tyler Labine’s character points out that if life’s a fairy tale, he’s known for a long time he’s never going to be the hero of the piece so he can either help the hero or hinder him. It’s perhaps the only point where anyone gains depth.
Mad Love is nice. It’s inoffensive viewing. But it’s very, very dull. I hear episode two might be better, so I’ll tune in for that, but I wouldn’t recommend tuning in for this episode since you’re not going to be missing much.
Whether this is all a step up from the pilot, though, is an interesting question. Even before the pilot – which was originally called True Love – there was recasting going on with Dan Fogler and Ashley Austin Taylor originally playing the two best friends eventually played by Labine and Greer. But for the pilot itself, the awesome Lizzy Caplan (Party Down) had Greer’s role and was, apparently, as awesome as she normally is. However, Minka Kelly – who’s been bland but acceptable in Parenthood – originally had Chalke’s role but she was recast, and to be honest, that at least can only be a step up. But – yet again – poor Alex Breckenridge was a high-point of a pilot but still got recast – she had the part of Erin, Bigg’s ex-girlfriend who keeps getting words wrong, her replacement barely registering as having a personality.
So in aggregate this might actually be a case of the pilot being better than the final episode.