PERFECT COUPLES – the lucky new NBC Thursday night sitcom that stars the hard working scene stealer Kyle Bornheimer and THE DAILY SHOW’s Olivia Munn (who does a well enough, if sometimes stiff, job) – surprised me in how it fails to connect its perfectly laid out pieces into a compelling whole. Like with MY GENERATION last fall, there’s such an incredible yearning for it to succeed (because it has a great cast, the potential to make some smart observations about adult relationships, and be kind of funny) that you almost want to it reassess itself through sheer force of will. I wanted to shake my TV when screening two episodes for review – “Why can’t you just work?” Tonight’s pilot is almost unbearably grating, setting up the three couples as archetypal character outlines: the impulsive, argumentative Amy (IT’S ALWAYS SUNNY IN PHILADELPHIA’s Mary Elizabeth Ellis) and Vance (David Walton), the uptight, buttoned-up, nosy WASPs, Rex (Hayes MacArthur) and Leigh (Munn), and the frazzled, straight man duo Julia (FLASHFORWARD’s Christine Woods) and Dave (Bornheimer), who are desperately trying to avoid their friends so that they can enjoy their anniversary.
Greater sitcom episodes have been made from even slimmer plots, but for an episode that’s supposed to capture the audiences’ attention, it fails what should be its number one objective: convincing us that these couples not only love each other, but make it believable that they’d even be friends. Which, by all counts in the premiere, it fails to do: Why would Julia and Dave ever want to spend their time with Rex and Leigh, who intrude into their personal lives, are condescendingly snobbish, and are just all-around insufferable? That Rex is Julia’s brother is insufficient an explanation for her physically pushing the couple out the door in annoyance. And when Leigh chirps, as the door is closing, “text you later!” I doubt they would even trade numbers, much less text message one another.
Before you skip it entirely, allow me to offer a minor glimmer of hope: In Episode 3, while not the kind of complete turnaround you’d hope for, it seems to have self-corrected to an unquestionably flawed, but intermittently wise and funny ensemble that shows an understanding of what exactly brings these couples together as couples and as friends. Better yet, it goes about bringing you around to these characters in a much better way, namely, not making them as annoying: Julia and Dave are effortlessly cool and kind of dorky, Rex and Leigh are so twisted by relationship guru-isms, they humorously commit to everything being done by the book (the professionally constructed, purposely clichéd “man cave” Leigh designs, complete with “hidden” foreign porn, is a great yuppie rib), and Amy and Vance, despite their continued, screechy bickering, are a sweet portrait of overly-passionate young love.
But that’s far too much to hang on just one episode, and though I remain hopeful for its continued course-correction (I’m going ahead and setting my DVR for it, praying continually), there are still a few glaring reservations to be aired, namely, the post-THIRTYSOMETHING-cum-Apatow world this show tries to exist in. Turning every minuscule detail into an all-consuming dilemma does not compound well with raunchy, complicated, and detailed male relationships, but it mostly exhibits those styles’ worst attributes, turning too often to animosity and easy melodrama and characterizes its female characters as incapable or shrewish (not that its male characters are especially unique either). The cast, whom you’ve probably seen in various TV projects over the past few years, is winning, they seem so committed to making it work. I wish the show great success purely for Kyle Bornheimer, whose affable goofiness has been woefully undervalued in his recent failed comedies. If I really could forcibly shake PERFECT COUPLES into being a better show, I would do it for him first.
Thankfully, PARKS AND RECREATION, finally back from an overlong break, does not incite any complicated emotions – it’s just great. After a mounting budget crisis closed the government of the fictional Pawnee, Indiana for the summer, it’s back to work for TV’s most comically devoted elected official, Leslie Knope (Amy Poehler, who’s created a truly classic character) and her crack team at the parks department. New cast members Rob Lowe and Adam Scott fit into this loveable group with ease, but perhaps the greatest accomplishment of this third season’s first chunk of episodes is that it finally takes Rashida Jones’ noble Ann Perkins from second banana to full-on ensemble player. PERFECT COUPLES: C+; PARKS AND RECREATION: A-
PERFECT COUPLES premieres tonight at 8:30PM EST on NBC (CityTV in Canada) PARKS AND RECREATION returns tonight at 9:30PM EST on NBC (CityTV in Canada)
Aleks Chan is a contributing writer to The TV Addict. He has seen every episode of BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER four times, has once referred to his DVR as his “best friend,” and has only seen the pilot episode of THE SOPRANOS — and has no intention to apologize for it. He lives in Austin, Texas. His name is pronounced like Alex. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org, follow him on Twitter (@alekstvaddict), or his own blog, Screen Reader.