Thursday, October 02, 2014

NBC Fall Pilot Review: A to Z - Premieres Tonight; TV Land Orders 2 New Single-Camera Comedies for 2015

A to Z

A to Z - Thursdays at 9:30PM ET/PT on NBC
Premieres Thursday, October 2, 2014 at 9:30PM ET/PT


by Vincent

A to Z is a romantic comedy that tracks the relationship of Andrew, a whimsical employee for an internet dating site, and Zelda, a no-nonsense lawyer who have an accidental meet-up and wind up falling for each other. He thinks it's chance. He thinks it's fate. After all, he's convinced she's the shimmering girl in the silver dress. Is it true love forever or just a detour in destiny?

Cast Details:

Ben Feldman as Andrew
Cristin Milioti as Zelda
Henry Zebrowski as Stu
Leonora Crichlow as Stephie
Katey Sagal as The Narrator

Ben Feldman (Andrew) is best known for his role as Michael Ginsberg on AMC's Mad Men. He also appeared regularly as Fred on Lifetime's Drop Dead Diva. His other television work includes appearances on The Mindy Project, Silicon Valley, and CSI.

Cristin Milioti (Zelda) is best known as Tracy McConnel, or "The Mother," on How I Met Your Mother. She is also well-known for her role in the popular Broadway musical Once. Her other work includes appearances on The Good Wife, 30 Rock, and Nurse Jackie.

Henry Zebrowski (Stu) has appeared on several TV shows, including Blue Bloods, Royal Pains, and Law & Order: SVU. Most recently, he had a small role in the film The Wolf of Wall Street.

Leonora Crishlow (Stephie) has appeared in a handful of TV shows, including Doctor Who, Being Human, and Back in the Game.

Katey Sagal (The Narrator) is well-known for her TV work, including long-running roles as Peggy Bundy on Married...with Children and as Leela on Futurama. She currently stars as Gemma Teller Morrow on FX's Sons of Anarchy and was on the popular sitcom 8 Simple Rules, opposite the late John Ritter.

Pilot Plot:

"A is for Acquaintances" (Thursday, Oct. 2 at 9:30PM ET/PT)

When a computer glitch sends Zelda on a total mismatch, she's asked to come in for an interview at the internet dating site where Andrew works, and this is where it all begins. Andrew and Zelda meet for the first time and despite their differences, sparks fly. She thinks it's chance. He thinks it's fate and is convinced she's the shimmering girl in the silver dress he saw several years earlier.

Analysis:

Romantic comedy seems to be a big trend in sitcom pilots this fall. Between this show, Marry Me (also on NBC), and ABC's Selfie and Manhattan Love Story, the networks seem to be obsessed with the idea of a TV series that documents two unlikely people falling in love. Strangely, there doesn’t seem to be any real catalyst for this trend – I guess maybe you could attribute it to the success of How I Met Your Mother, which was really mostly an ensemble comedy but had a strong romantic comedy pipeline running through it, or perhaps even the far more modest success of a show like The Mindy Project. And yet, both of those shows demonstrate just how difficult it is to truly nail a romantic comedy. How I Met Your Mother was an incredibly popular series, sure, but after the very divisive series finale, few would argue it really nailed the rom-com elements of its premise.

The Mindy Project has struggled both critically and commercially through-out its run (though critics seem to be more on its side lately), and it's been a while since we've had a rom-com film that managed to captivate the masses in the way something like When Harry Met Sally or Breakfast at Tiffany's did. Still, there's something uniquely satisfying about a romantic comedy when it's done right, and A to Z is attempting to be TV's answer to that pop culture niche. Does it succeed? Well, it gets some things right, particularly its two lead actors. Ben Feldman and Cristin Milioti are terrific actors in their own right, but their chemistry together is undeniably electric, and it made me more invested in their courtship than I ever expected myself to be. The two sell their respective characters and their attraction to each other to the point where a lot of the faults of the writing tend to melt away, and their skills almost makes this worth watching alone. Unfortunately, the rest of A to Z is fairly inconsistent. One of the most common trappings romantic comedy as a genre has is that it has an overbearing sense of plot momentum - the story needs to get to certain places at certain times, which often leads its characters to act in ways that are not recognizably human. The best examples of the form find ways to rise above this – the excellent You're the Worst on FX (which gets my vote as the best entry in the apparent rom-com race) made its lead characters extremely flawed individuals, allowing their often outlandish behavior make sense in the context of their characters. A to Z is, unfortunately, not on that level – its characters often feel like confused messes of quirks that add up to vaguely stereotypical archetypes rather than fully-realized characters. This fault can be found at an even larger level with the very weak supporting cast, none of which seem to have a clear purpose on the show just yet. Of course, this is just a pilot, and these characters will hopefully develop over time, but right now it feels like the actors are far above the level the show is operating at.

Conclusion:

A to Z is an inconsistent show that's a little too impressed with itself and is more concerned with being "cute" than creating good, memorable characters. That said, the show has some undeniable strength in its two lead actors, and there's parts of this pilot that suggest a show that could eventually serve them well. If the show can simply strengthen its lead characters a bit more and define them beyond basic stereotypes, and if it can figure out just what the hell to do with its supporting cast, this could eventually become a show to look out for. Right now, it feels like a show with a lot of potential that isn’t quite being realized yet.

Final Numbers (out of 5 stars):

Watchability: 3/5
Funniness: 2.5/5
Overall: 3/5

Discuss the show after you watch it on Thursday, Oct. 2, 2014 at 9:30PM ET/PT on our message board.

Related Links:

  • NBC.com Official Site
  • TV.com
  • epguides.com
  • Internet Movie Database
  • Wikipedia
  • A to Z Photo Gallery

    Preview:





  • Impastor

    TV Land has ordered 10-episode first seasons of two new single-camera comedies, Impastor and Teachers. Both series will premiere on TV Land in 2015. Impastor, a single-camera comedy from Christopher Vane, stars Michael Rosenbaum, Sara Rue (Less Than Perfect), Aimee Garcia (George Lopez), Mircea Monroe, Mike Kosinski, and David Rasche (Ugly Betty). The series revolves around Buddy Dobbs (Rosenbaum), a gambling, pot-smoking slacker on the run from a loan shark, who steals a man’s identity and ends up posing as the new gay pastor in a small, tight-knit town. Though he’s tempted to immediately run off with the pastor’s money, Buddy has a change of heart when he realizes that the people there, including his prim church assistant Dora (Rue), actually like this new and semi-improved alter ego...and he kind of likes them back. Other officials at Buddy’s new church include Alexa Cummings (Monroe), the gorgeous treasurer that has Buddy rethinking his whole con; Russell Kerry (Kosinski), the young secretary who's very excited to have a gay pastor; and Alden Schmidt (Rasche), the church president and the only person who seems to be just a little suspicious of Buddy. As Buddy deals with his new life, his bartender ex-girlfriend Leanne (Garcia), has to deal with the huge mess he left behind.

    Teachers

    Teachers revolves around six elementary school teachers who are trying to mold the minds and lives of America's youth, even though they don't really seem to have their own lives together at all. From refusing to read fairytales because "sometimes Prince Charming wants to date other people" to hitting on the resident "hot dad," these teachers are certainly changing the world, one student at a time. The series stars improv group The Katydids - Caitlin Barlow, Katy Colloton, Cate Freedman, Kate Lambert, Katie O'Brien and Katie Thomas – who also wrote and starred in the web hit that the TV series is based on. In addition to writing for and starring in Teachers, they will also serve as executive producers alongside Alison Brie (Community) and showrunners Ian Roberts and Jay Martel (Key and Peele).


    Sitcoms Airing Tonight

    Thursday, October 18

    The Big Bang Theory - "The Planetarium Collision" (CBS, 8:00PM ET/PT)
    When Amy doesn’t have time to work on super-asymmetry, Sheldon goes to great lengths to ensure she’s available to work with him even it if means accidentally sabotaging her career in the process. Also, Koothrappali doesn’t want Wolowitz to join him in hosting a show at the planetarium. Emmy Award winner Bob Newhart returns as Arthur Jeffries.

    Young Sheldon - "A Research Study and Czechoslovakian Wedding Pastries" (CBS, 8:30PM ET/PT)
    Dr. Sturgis (Wallace Shawn) recommends Sheldon and Missy for a university research study on twins, and Mary is unhappy when the test results go to Sheldon’s head.

    Mom - "Big Sauce and Coconut Water" (CBS, 9:00PM ET/PT)
    Christy is certain that Bonnie is in over her head when she invites a freshly paroled Tammy (Kristen Johnston) to stay with them.

    Murphy Brown - "Three Shirts to the Wind" (CBS, 9:30PM ET/PT)
    Murphy and the team weigh the pros and cons of accepting the offer to have the first interview with a headline-grabbing former White House senior advisor (David Costabile) who wants to promote his divisive book and agenda on “Murphy in the Morning.” Also, Avery moderates a lively political discussion on his show with locals in Buffalo, N.Y.. Original series cast member Charles Kimbrough returns as Jim Dial in his first of three episodes, and Merle Dandridge guest stars as the team’s arrogant network boss, Diana Macomber.

    Superstore - "Toxic Workplace" (NBC, 8:00PM ET/PT)
    Amy (America Ferrera) and Jonah (Ben Feldman) get combative to keep their new relationship hidden from their co-workers. Meanwhile, Glenn (Mark McKinney) spirals when he learns Kelly (Kelly Stables) wants to transfer to a new store, and Cheyenne (Nichole Bloom) struggles to organize a Cloud 9 carpool.

    The Good Place - "Jeremy Bearimy" (NBC, 8:30PM ET/PT)
    The group explores the three main branches of ethical thought.

    Will & Grace - "Tex and the City" (NBC, 9:00PM ET/PT)
    Will (Eric McCormack) and Jack (Sean Hayes) visit Jack’s grandson, Skip (guest star Samuel Faraci), in Texas to watch him perform at his church’s talent show. But when Jack learns Skip plans on singing “Diamonds Are A Girl’s Best Friend,” he becomes afraid for his grandson’s safety. Karen (Megan Mullally) tags along to check out the portion of the border wall she sponsored, only to discover that Beverley Leslie (guest star Leslie Jordan) has claimed it as his own. Back home, Grace (Debra Messing) and Noah (guest star David Schwimmer) try to figure out if something is wrong in their relationship because their numerous attempts to have sex have failed.

    I Feel Bad - "I'm Vain A.F." (NBC, 9:30PM ET/PT)
    An upcoming launch party at GamePunch throws Emet’s vanity into overdrive. Intent on scrubbing a bad picture off the company website, Emet is dead set on redeeming herself and getting the perfect photo at this year’s party – that means getting her hair done, professional make-up and toning up a problem area: her husband.

    Complete TV Listings


    Sitcom Stars on Talk Shows (Week of October 15)

    Thursday, October 18

    • Julia Louis-Dreyfus (Veep/The New Adventures of Old Christine/Seinfeld) - Catch Julia on Jimmy Kimmel Live! at 11:35pm on ABC.
    • Laura Benanti (The Detour/Go On/Starved) - Laura stops by The Late Show with Stephen Colbert at 11:35pm on CBS.
    • John Mulaney (Mulaney) - John appears on a repeat of Late Night with Seth Meyers at 12:36am on NBC.
    • Meredith Hagner (Search Party/Men at Work) - Meredith is a guest on a repeat of Late Night with Seth Meyers at 12:36am on NBC.
    • Maya Rudolph (Forever/Up All Night) - Maya drops by The Late Late Show with James Corden at 12:37am on CBS.
    • Nick Kroll (The League/Cavemen) - Nick visits The Late Late Show with James Corden at 12:37am on CBS.
    • Sanaa Lathan (Family Guy/The Cleveland Show/LateLine) - Sanaa appears on a repeat of Last Call with Carson Daly at 1:35am on NBC.
    • Busy Philipps (Vice Principals/Cougar Town) - Busy is a guest on Watch What Happens: Live at 11pm on Bravo.
    • Stockard Channing (Out of Practice/The Stockard Channing Show/Stockard Channing in Just Friends) - Stockard visits Watch What Happens: Live at 11pm on Bravo.
    • Jenna Fischer (Splitting Up Together/The Office) - Jenna appears on The Talk on CBS at 2pm ET/1pm CT-PT.
    • John Stamos (Grandfathered/Jake in Progress/Full House) - John talks about You on LIVE! with Kelly and Ryan, so check your listings.
    • Chelsea Handler (Are You There, Chelsea?) - Chelsea stops by The Ellen DeGeneres Show, so check your local listings.
    • Michael Fishman and Maya Lynne Robinson (The Conners/Roseanne) - Michael and Maya Lynne are guests on New York Live on WNBC in New York at 11:30am ET. Michael and Lecy Goranson can be heard on The Morning Mash Up on SiriusXM.
    • John Goodman (The Conners/Roseanne/The Trouble in Normal, Ohio) - John talks about The Big Lebowski reunion on NBC's Today sometime between 7-9am.
    • Bailee Madison (Trophy Wife) - Bailey talks about Hallmark Channel's Good Witch: Tale of Two Hearts on Home & Family on Hallmark Channel at 10am ET/PT.


    New on DVD/Blu-ray (September/October)

    The Big Bang Theory - The Complete Eleventh Season The Middle - The Complete Ninth Season Modern Family - The Complete Ninth Season Step by Step - The Complete Second Season Perfect Strangers - The Complete Fifth Season

    09/04 - It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia - The Complete Season 12
    09/04 - Mom - The Complete Fifth Season
    09/04 - Silicon Valley - The Complete Fifth Season
    09/04 - Superstore - Season Three
    09/04 - Young Sheldon - The Complete First Season
    09/11 - The Big Bang Theory - The Complete Eleventh Season (Blu-ray)
    09/11 - The Middle - The Complete Ninth Season
    09/11 - Modern Family - The Complete Ninth Season
    09/11 - People of Earth - The Complete Second Season
    09/18 - Community - The Complete Series (Blu-ray)
    09/18 - Step by Step - The Complete Second Season
    09/18 - You're the Worst - The Complete Fourth Season
    09/25 - Blondie - The Complete 1957 Television Series
    09/25 - Perfect Strangers - The Complete Fifth Season
    10/02 - The Beverly Hillbillies - The Official Fifth Season
    10/02 - The Love Boat - Season Four - Volume One / Volume Two
    10/02 - Saved by the Bell - The Complete Collection
    10/16 - Police Squad! - TV and Movie Collection
    More TV DVD Releases / DVD Reviews Archive / SitcomsOnline Digest