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

    Tuesday, October 17

    The Middle - "Meet the Parents" (ABC, 8:00PM ET/PT)
    Frankie is stoked when Axl invites her and Mike to meet and have dinner with girlfriend Lexie’s rich parents, Tammy (Lisa Rinna) and Bennett. But Frankie is worried that their less then luxurious lifestyle may put a damper on their meeting. Meanwhile, Brick is excited to be a part of the Sophomore Slammer fundraiser, in which fellow classmates fake arrest each other and friends come to pay money – which will go to charity – to bail them out. But Brick soon discovers that no matter how hard he tries, he just can’t get arrested.

    Fresh Off the Boat - "Kids" (ABC, 8:30PM ET/PT)
    With the realization that Eddie is finally mature enough to be left on his own, Louis and Jessica see the light at the end of their parenting tunnel and make plans to spend more time with friends Honey and Marvin. Until their neighbors announce a plan of their own: Marvin is getting his vasectomy reversed so the couple can conceive a baby. The Huangs do their best to dissuade them.

    black-ish - "Elder. Scam." (ABC, 9:00PM ET/PT)
    Ruby gets scammed and Dre begins to suspect that she isn’t as sharp as she used to be, particularly because she was the one who used to scam other people. Zoey’s friend Aaron visits and Diane develops an instant crush on him.

    The Mayor - "Buyer's Remorse" (ABC, 9:30PM ET/PT)
    As Courtney settles into his new role as mayor, he’s faced with a dismal approval rating as the citizens of Fort Grey express their lack of confidence in his ability to lead, as well as those on his own staff. He realizes that he needs to take an unconventional approach when dealing with Councilman Ed Gunt (David Spade) and comes up with a plan to quickly turn public opinion in his favor.

    The Mick - "The Haunted House" (Fox, 9:00PM ET/PT)
    Mickey and Jimmy organize a special Halloween party at their mansion, but the party soon goes awry; Sabrina hopes to further her legacy with the party; Mickey becomes determined to give a group of practical jokers a lesson.

    Brooklyn Nine-Nine - "Halloveen" (Fox, 9:30PM ET/PT)
    When the fifth annual Nine-Nine Halloween Heist begins, everybody scrambles to make a plan to come out on top of the competition, which tests various friendships and relationships as they struggle to earn the title of "Amazing Human Slash Genius."

    Complete TV Listings


    Sitcom Stars on Talk Shows (Week of October 16)

    Tuesday, October 17

    • Paul Shaffer (A Year at the Top) - Paul sits in with Cleto and The Cletones on Jimmy Kimmel Live! at 11:35pm on ABC.
    • Jerry Seinfeld (Seinfeld) - Jerry appears on a repeat of The Late Show with Stephen Colbert at 11:35pm on CBS.
    • Bobby Moynihan (Me, Myself & I) - Bobby is a guest on a repeat of Late Night with Seth Meyers at 12:36am on NBC.
    • Kate Micucci (Raising Hope/Scrubs) - Kate appears on a repeat of Conan at 11pm on TBS.
    • David Arquette (In Case of Emergency/Parenthood) - David stops by Watch What Happens: Live at 11pm on Bravo.
    • Jason Alexander (Seinfeld/Bob Patterson/Listen Up!) - Jason visits The Wendy Williams Show at 2am on BET or on your local stations.
    • Terry Crews (Brooklyn Nine-Nine/Are We There Yet?/Everybody Hates Chris) - Terry teaches Harry his signature jump pose on Harry, so check your local listings.
    • Brandon Micheal Hall (The Mayor) - Brandon is a guest on Harry, so check your local listings.
    • Jason Ritter (The Class) - Jason talks about his new ABC show Kevin (Probably) Saves the World on the People Now at 8:30am.
    • Lana Parrilla (Spin City) - Lana appears on Rachael Ray, so check your local listings.
    • Ron Livingston (Loudermilk) - Ron talks about the Audience Network's Loudermilk on the AOL Build Show at 2pm and on New York Live on WNBC in New York at 11:30am ET.
    • Kimberly Williams-Paisley (According to Jim) - Kimberly talks about the Hallmark Movies & Mysteries original Darrow & Darrow on Home & Family on Hallmark Channel at 10am ET/PT.
    • Randall Park (Fresh Off the Boat) - Randall is a guest on Access Hollywood Live, so check your local listings.


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