Series Premiere — Perfect Couples, “Pilot”

NBC’s newest comedy Perfect Couples is in a great position. Despite the mishandled “preview” screening after the end of The Sing Off before the end of 2010, the series is still getting the cozy post-Community, pre-Office slot in the three-hour super-block of comedy. This presumably means that a good number of people will be watching this series just to pass the time between more recognizable, better series and I am one of those people. I expected to totally hate this pilot episode after I read my buddy Noel Kirkpatrick’s take on the preview episode, but honestly Perfect Couples is fine.*

*Noel also hated last night’s episode, so I don’t want to tell you. He’s just insane!

This feels like a similar example to what happened when I watched The Cape though. NBC has been very good at lowering my expectations this season, so I have hated anything they’ve put out except for Outsourced and the new Law & Order. Hell, I even watched a few episodes of Chase and didn’t want to punch an infant. And I know there are much better things to say about a new television comedy than “Well, I can do this for 30 minutes before other, better things come on,” but I frankly didn’t think I would be able to get there. Perfect Couples is certainly not good, but there are elements in place here that suggest it could improve fairly quickly.

Most importantly, there were some really funny lines here — most notably Kyle Bornheimer’s delivery of “Don’t list normal things like they’re bad” — that tell me the writers of this program are not completely inept. I’ve watched multiple episodes of both Outsourced and Shit My Dad Says and I still haven’t laughed. That is a terrible comparison, but know that Perfect Couples is at least better than those two programs! We’ve seen countless recent comedies — The Office, Parks and Rec and I’d even argue 30 Rock and Community — that take a little bit to get going. Certainly those four series started from a different place and developed at varying rates, but this episode isn’t any worse than the Parks and Recreation pilot.

Secondly, the cast is…okay. Mary Elizabeth Ellis is, unsurprisingly, great. It’s nice that Christine Woods survived FlashForward. And I understand the appeal of Kyle Bornheimer, even though this is third or fourth shot. Though I had no concrete opinions of her coming in, Olivia Munn is most certainly obnoxious here, but because that seems to be the obvious point of her character I cannot really tell if she sucks or not. I don’t care for Hayes MacArthur either, but together they make an intriguingly annoying couple.

Finally, although this is far from an original series conceptually, I certainly prefer this set-up to whatever the hell is going on with Happy Endings and Better With You. They’re all about white people in relationships, but this one seems to have the most promise on the broadest level. It could become a disaster next week, but it seems like the program could break some interesting stories about the various approaches to dating and relationships. Despite some of the zaniness, Bornheimer and Wood’s characters are naturally likable and believable together and their conversations were totally realistic. I like them.

Noel pointed this out in his review, but something Couples is going to have to work on moving forward is its timing and rhythm. So many new single camera comedies want to try to complete with 30 Rock for the number of jokes per minute and they just cannot do it. The writing and the performers have to be really, really good to keep that sort of pacing consistently up and even though I like most of the cast here, they’re not really there. This is particularly frustrating in a pilot episode because as an audience member you can see that the writers are simply trying to pack in as many jokes as possible with the hope that we’ll like at least one of them and come back for episode two. Clearly I did as I mentioned above, but there is still an obvious strain with the pacing.

Mary Elizabeth Ellis and David Walton seem to be able to handle it with their manic energy, but the intended clashes between the three couples also harms the delivery and pacing of the jokes. In theory having a “normal” laid back couple, an insane couple and a secretly insane/creepy couple seems like a funny idea but when they’re all in the same room and the actors haven’t figured out how to mesh those styles, it’s just a mess. The pilot wants the audience to feel like the destructive group scenes are suffocating and wild in a hilarious way, but here they’re a bit uncomfortable and confusing because the timing isn’t there.

I can’t believe I’ve written 800 words on Perfect Couples, but perhaps that’s me justifying the time I spent watching this pilot episode. Again, this isn’t a good series and for a good portion of its running time the pacing and timing were off in such an awkward way, but there are elements on the table that could be organized more properly in the future. I don’t know if that will happen, but I’ve seen enough comedies improve drastically after 6-8 episodes that I’m willing to give this one a chance to get there.

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