Third-episode verdict: A to Z (US: NBC)

The BarrometerA Barrometer rating of 4

In the US: Thursdays, 9.30/8.30c, NBC

Three episodes into A To Z and we’re seeing signs of improvement from that initial, not very enticing first episode. Unfortunately, those signs are also of “Everything Else Syndrome”. For those who don’t know “Everything Else Syndrome”, it’s when a TV show has a focus – in the case of a rom-com, the two would-be lovers – and it’s dull and uninteresting, largely because everything else is more interesting.

In the case of a rom-com, that’s usually because of co-morbidity with “Best Friends Syndrome” – that is, not only are the central characters quite dull, their best friends are a lot more interesting. Think The Big Bang Theory, Mad Love, Will and Grace, and so on – you’d rather have been watching shows about the supporting cast, wouldn’t you?

A To Z ostensibly is about Andrew (Ben Feldman) and Zelda (Cristin Milioti), a boy and a girl who meet and are apparently well suited to each other, the big rom-com twists being

  1. He’s the romantic one, but she’s been hurt so is the closed-off one
  2. Each episode charts (from A to Z, since calling the show A To Z simply because of the characters’ names would be incredibly weak, wouldn’t it?) the ups and downs of their relationship from beginning to end. Yes, end.

Now, that’s not really much to keep you watching and if you’re already rooting for Andrew and Zelda to get and stay together, you need to get out more, since they are unremittingly dull, even when they’re revealing their own deep dark secret pasts in the the third episode. Equally, narrator Katey Sagal has made it clear that there is an end to the relationship, and while you can certainly hope for there to be a get-out clause that reunites them, you really are hoping against hope there.

So instead, if you are going to watch A To Z – and on the whole, I wouldn’t recommend that – it’s because of everything else except Andrew and Zelda. Andrew works for an online dating company and actually, everyone who works at that company is more interesting than Andrew. There are a couple of programmers who used to go out together and are quite funny together (Parvesh Cheena, Hong Chau); there’s a human resources person (Ben Falcone) who has to deal with the overbearing, intrusive, amoral, empathy-free and occasionally very weird CEO (Christina Kirk); and there’s Stu (Henry Zebrowski), Andrew’s best friend and habitual online dating liar.

To complicate matters, Stu used to go out with lawyer Zelda’s best friend and work colleague Stephie (Lenora Crichlow from our very own Being Human and who’s come fresh from best friend duties on ABC’s Back In The Game), when Stu pretended to be a jazz musician, so the two exes now have to get along because their best friends are now dating.

And because of both “Everything Else Syndrome” and “Best Friends Syndrome”, these are the parts of the show it’s possible to both enjoy and look forward to, since not only are the characters more interesting and given more comedic situations and lines, the actors also get more to do, too. Indeed, increasingly more and more of the show is dedicated to the supporting cast.

Trouble is – as Mad Love showed – if you have a rom-com and the audience would rather be watching the supporting cast, you’re probably not going to last long. And I think with A To Z, it’s pretty clear that cancellation is hanging over it in the exact same way that Katey Segal’s doom-laden voiceover does.

So not even a cautious recommendation from me. While there have been some laughs from the office side of things and the third-episode was an oddly innovative look at how Google and the Internet have changed online dating, all of which lift the show above the likes of Manhattan Love Story, we’re still talking about a show with not enough appeal to justify your tuning in for half an hour every week.

Life’s too short for doomed relationships, so it’s time to move on.

Barrometer rating: 4
Rob’s prediction: Cancelled before the end of the season