[This is a review of A to Z season 1, episode 1. There will be SPOILERS.]
NBC's comedy focus this season is clearly on love and relationships with Marry Me and A to Z holding down two of the three sitcom slots on the network's schedule, but while the former seems to be more focused on comedy, A to Z comes off as more rom than com, positioning the show as a boon to anyone in search of a new adorable couple to root for on television.
Created by Ben Queen and produced by Rashida Jones and Will McCormack, A to Z's leads are impeccably cast with Cristin Milioti and Ben Feldman playing well off of each other as the relationship averse Zelda and the romantic Andrew. The trouble is, the pilot relies too heavily on their chemistry and combined adorableness and not enough on making A to Z feel grounded and less like a clichéd fairytale.
In the story, it's girl (a lawyer who came from hippies) meets boy (who loves hockey and Celine Dion) at the dating website that he works for. She's there to instigate a lawsuit and he's a romantic floating in an acrid pool of cynicism. Andrew's boss is loud and angry that more people aren't using the site for hookups and flings. She doesn't want anymore happy letters from satisfied couples who met their soulmates on the service. This is a role that Jane Lynch would own, but in this episode, actress Christina Kirk is only allowed to aggressively and charmlessly bark at her underlings.
Andrew's co-workers are similarly underdeveloped with Parvesh Cheena and Hong Chau playing a pair of tech workers who used to be involved and now spend their days acting awkward. After Andrew takes Zelda out on a disastrous date and freaks her out by talking about destiny and fate, Dinesh (Cheena) and Lora (Chau) help him scour the internet in search of evidence that proves that it was Zelda who he saw in a silver dress at a concert two years prior and that they just may be meant to be.
Later, Andrew and Zelda (who work in the same office park) have a bump-into while getting coffee and briefly seem like they might rekindle things before his minions find him and tell him about their progress in their mission, briefly spoiling things with Zelda, who in real life would be pondering a restraining order at this point.
Amazingly, Andrew's roommate Stu (who is also his co-worker) has a bump-into with Zelda's best friend Stephie in the same place at the same time, which is unfortunate because Stu had previously told Stephie that he was a jazz musician named Scatman Des Moines before he slept with her. Oh yes, the producers tried to pull off a double bump-into/double scheme-reveal, which is an advanced sitcom move.
Unfortunately, Stu and Stephie bring little to the show. He's a doughy dude-type with backwards views on relationships and an affinity for terrible come on lines and Stephie is a self-described "sexy social chameleon". Stephie is played by Lenora Cruchlow, who did this role better on Back in the Game last season, albeit with more confidence. It's distressing to me that A to Z has a character on the show who is so reliant on the personality traits of her boyfriends to inform who she is. If Stephie remains a comedic side character and not someone who grows and becomes her own person this season, that will be unfortunate.
By episode's end, Zelda has reconsidered after reclassifying Andrew's determination as endearing instead of off-putting. It turns out that Zelda had been lying the entire time - it was her in the silver dress at the concert. “Maybe I could use a little meant-to-be in my life.” she says to Andrew, stepping out of her comfort zone. The two kiss, the moonlight makes the water behind them sparkle, the camera spins, the music swells and narrator Katey Sagal reminds us that Andrew and Zelda will date for “eight months, three weeks, five days and one hour” and that the show will be a "comprehensive account of their relationship from A to Z". So, marriage or heartbreak?
Right now, I'm still trying to figure out if I care about the journey, so questions about the ultimate destination feel secondary. A to Z has to find a way to be about more than how adorable it's main couple is and they need to stray from the cutesy moments and get a little real or else viewers are likely to strain themselves rolling their eyes. You know how sometimes a couple's stories are only really funny and entertaining to them? There is a danger that this could echo that if there isn't more of an effort to cut the cute with a little humor and a few relatable moments every once in awhile. The Lea Thompson bit with the hoverboard was a nice try, but it was entirely too absurd for the established tone of the show and it felt forced. With time, these things may improve, but after one date I'm not picking out china patterns.
A to Z airs Thursdays on ABC @9:30PM ET