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Welcome once again to our annual "first look" at the broadcast networks' offerings for the 2010-2011 season. Each day we'll walk you through one of the new series set to premiere next season (or one that didn't make the cut) and go over our initial impressions after viewing the pilot. Keep in mind that a lot can change from what's being screened right now - recasting, reshooting, etc. - but we still want to give you a heads up on what you should (and shouldn't) keep on your radar in the coming months. So enough of our rambling, on with the show!
[IMPORTANT NOTE: The following is based on the original sales presentation which was screened to us privately or supplied by a third party NOT an informational, not-for-review screener provided by the network in question.]
MAD LOVE (CBS)
(written by Matt Tarses; directed by Pamela Fryman; TRT: 22:06)
The network's description: No official description has been released...
What did they leave out? ...so everything. The show has also gone through some major recastings as Dan Fogler and Ashley Austin Morris were originally cast as Larry and Connie, respectively, before being replaced by Tyler Labine and Lizzy Caplan. Subsequently after the pilot was shot, Sarah Chalke is being brought in to replace Minka Kelly as Kate with a yet-to-be-determined actress taking over for Caplan as Connie. In addition, the title card refers to the show as "True Love" however that appears to have been changed to "Mad Love."
The plot in a nutshell: "When people say fairy tale love stories don't happen in real life, I'm tempted to punch them in the face," security guard Earl (Hal Williams) explains in the opening narration. "Instead, I invite them to the Empire State Building - up here a new love story starts every day, usually with a hero at a crossroads." And with that we meet Henry Parr (Jason Biggs), a lawyer, and his boorish best friend/fellow esquire Larry Munch (Tyler Labine), who've come to the Observation Deck to mull Henry's current quandary: whether his "ice princess" girlfriend Erin (Alexandra Breckenridge) is "the one." Like in the movies, he's looking for some kind of sign. Enter Kate (Minka Kelly), who's returned to said location to find her missing hat, where she "meets cute" with Henry.
The next day, Henry is still coasting on the high of meeting Kate but can't quite bring himself to break things off with Erin. Nevertheless, he drags Larry along to see Kate again, who's likewise brought her sardonic best friend, Connie (Lizzy Caplan).
And so while the lovebirds flutter in the clouds,
Larry and Connie are left to trade barbs over their mutual disgust with each other (Connie: "Are you happy with your beard?" Larry: "Are you happy with yours?") and protect their respective best pals from falling too fast. But like all vehement forms of hatred, there's a sliver of attraction between them. Nevertheless, before any sparks can develop they have to deal with the fallout of Kate finding out about Erin. Along the way we meet Tiffany (Sarah Wright), a dim-bulb housewife for whom Connie works as a nanny. Together Connie and Larry must reluctantly find out if Henry and Kate are meant to be.
What works: If the above sounds like "How I Met Your Mother" redux, it more or less is: a romantic guy on a quest for star-crossed love, best pal who couldn't be more the opposite and storybook narration about said events. To that end, it actually works as the cast is uniformly charming, collectively elevating a relatively vanilla script that's more smile-worthy than packed with laughs. The only ones who really bring the funny are Caplan and Labine, as now after watching it's obvious why so much stock was placed in their involvement (even if it didn't work out in Caplan's case). She steals the show here as a more hyperactive version of her "Party Down" character who despite her arsenal of sarcasm and wit can't quite seem to rain on the parade of Henry and Kate's relationship.
The same goes for Labine as loveable oaf Larry who alternates between spilling smoothies on himself and offering surprisingly poignant advice ("I learned a long time ago that I am not the hero of the story," he explains to Connie. "My life is not going to be about magic and signs. So if I want to even be in the story I have one of two choices: I can either try and help the hero or I can try to destroy him. So what do you want to be: the fairy godmother or the dragon?"). Together they make you want "Love" to be the Larry and Connie show...
What doesn't: ...rather than the Kate and Henry one. It's not that Biggs and Kelly are bad actors, they're just tasked as being the doe-eyed ciphers for the central drive of the show. Neither really jokes around as they're left to either stare longingly at each other or hold a lovestruck looks on their face in front of their friends. And while I have no doubt the addition of Chalke will give Kate a funnier aura, Kelly was never really given the material to do so. As for Biggs, he does the puppy dog everyman shtick as well as anyone, one again, I wish was funnier. The show also hinges a little too much on sitcomy misunderstandings (wait until you see what keeps Henry and Kate apart the second time) to keep the plot going, developments that make you long for the more amusingly Byzantine structure of "How I Met Your Mother's" stories. All in all, there's definitely a show here, a rehash of better shows we've seen before...
The bottom line: ...but a show nonetheless.