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

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    Sitcom Stars on Talk Shows (Week of January 23)

    Saturday, January 21

    • Phylicia Rashad (The Cosby Show/Cosby) - Phylicia will be featured on Oprah: Where Are They Now? at 10pm ET/PT on OWN.
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    • Allison Janney (Mom/Mr. Sunshine) - Watch Allison on a repeat of The Late Late Show with James Corden at 12:37am on CBS.
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    • Kevin Nealon (Man with a Plan/Weeds/Hiller and Diller/Champs) - Kevin appears on @midnight on Comedy Central at midnight.
    • Jade Catta-Preta (Manhattan Love Story) - Jade is a guest on @midnight on Comedy Central at midnight.
    • Wendi McClendon-Covey (The Goldbergs/Rules of Engagement/Reno 911!) - Wendi stops by Watch What Happens: Live at 11pm on Bravo.
    • Cristela Alonzo (Cristela) - Cristela chats with the ladies of The View on ABC at 11am ET/10am CT-PT.
    • Tika Sumpter (The Game) - Tika appears on The Real, so check your local listings.
    • Justina Machado (One Day at a Time) - Justina will be on New York Live on WNBC in New York at 12:30pm ET.
    • Jerry O'Connell (We Are Men/Carpoolers/My Secret Identity) - Jerry and Rebecca Romjin talk about Love Locks on NBC's Today in the 9am hour. Jerry will also be on Home & Family on Hallmark Channel at 10am ET/PT and on Watch What Happens: Live at 11pm on Bravo.
    • Retta (Parks and Recreation) - Retta talks about Girlfriend's Guide to Divorce on NBC's Today in the 10am hour.