Romantically Challenged (ABC)
Premiered April 19 at 9:30pm
ABC doesn’t typically do well with sitcoms, at least in recent years. This past fall proved to be an exception with three great successes: “The Middle,” “Modern Family,” and “Cougar Town.” But with those three also came one flop, the laugh-track Kelsey Grammer comedy “Hank,” which died after only five episodes. Now, in the slot formerly occupied by “Samantha Who,” a semi-successful, Emmy-winning, non-laugh-track comedy, comes “Romantically Challenged,” the story of at least one person trying to rebound from a serious relationship and finding it difficult to dive back into the dating pool. To its credit, it’s much funnier than it should be. There’s nothing about it or its characters that makes me particularly want to tune back in on Monday nights at 9:30pm (when I could be watching the final episodes of “24”), or at any time for that matter. But still, I found myself chuckling much more than I thought, though I’m not quite sure why. The writing style is similar to that of “Will & Grace,” less abrasive in terms of characters shouting others down but more stinging in terms of what they say to each other. To that extent, it does feel very timed and the characters very stock and stoic. Though it’s not entirely clear now, this follow a “How I Met Your Mother” formula of the main character going on dates with different individuals every single week, maybe even finding a supposed soul mate every half-dozen episodes or so. Alyssa Milano doesn’t possess any especially noteworthy comedic abilities to carry this show, but she is certainly charming. Kyle Bornheimer ("Worst Week") started out in the opening minutes of the show as the loud, obnoxious character he was always meant to play, but then quickly turned into a nervous nebbish who anchored one of the pilot’s funnier plotlines but seemed fairly miscast for that part. There’s nothing much worth mentioning about the rest of the cast, and it’s exactly that lack of being memorable that makes this show disposable and forgettable. I may come back to it next week, but I’m definitely not drawn in.
How will it work as a series? One cool aspect is that it’s not just about Milano’s Rebecca searching for companionship, but also Perry (Bornheimer), and maybe even slacker-writer roommate Shawn. Having multiple characters going out on ill-fated dates each episode could work well, especially if one flops and the other manages to soar. The core cast will have to work on being more memorable, though.
How long will it last? I’m not convinced that anyone is clamoring for another romantic comedy show, and ABC has a successful enough block on Wednesday nights to sustain its schedule going into the next season. This show only has a very short time to prove itself, and while the network may want to put faith in Milano, I can’t imagine that this one will make it to a second season. Ideally “Better Off Ted” would be ahead of this in terms of chances of getting a renewal to join Wednesday night’s comedy back, but I’m sure that’s not true either.
Pilot grade: B-