Powered by
Movable Type 3.2

April 20, 2010

Why I Won't Be Watching Romantically Challenged


I watched the premiere of Romantically Challenged last night. Now, a caveat up front: I'm generally not much of a sitcom fan. I think the only current ones I watch are How I Met Your Mother and My Boys. I generally prefer my shows to be an hour and my comedy to be mixed with drama. But a few friends were excited about this one, so I figured I'd give it a try.

But even given my indifference toward sitcoms, this show failed for me on a few levels. First of all, there were the common sitcom issues: laugh track. Overacting. "Jokes" that weren't funny. I think I laughed twice during the half hour, but now, the next morning, I can only remember one funny line: "I didn't really grow up in New York. I grew up on Long Island." And that's not even that funny, and I'm not sure how well it plays out of the New York area.

The acting was . . . not great. The two guys were serviceable, at least, and if the show was focused on the dynamic between them, I might watch. I know Alyssa Milano has a lot of fans, but from this, I can't say I understand why. She came across as tense, wooden, fake, and thoroughly unfunny. (I thought she did better in her guest spot on Castle, in which she more or less just stood there and looked fragile.) And the actress who played her sister - well, she came across as a mediocre actress trying to be Kristin Chenoweth. Which meant she basically just ended up as annoying.

But there are lots of questionably funny sitcoms out there, and usually I can take or leave them. This one I actively disliked, because the humor - or, more frequently, the unsuccessful attempts at humor - came from a really questionable place. It took a very antagonistic stance toward its main character. Sure, a lot of comedies are centered around jokes at the expense of the main character(s), but the viewer usually gets the impression that the show is on the character's side, when it comes down to it. That was not the case here. Rebecca (Milano) was barely even a character. She was a collection of stereotypes thrown together for the purpose of mocking them.

Quick recap: Rebecca receives an invitation to her ex-husband's wedding so her friends and sister convince her she needs to start dating again. She glances around their regular coffee shop (no, really) and finds a guy to go out with, because God forbid the writers exert themselves and come up with a way for her to meet the guy. At her friends' suggestion, she lies about her son's age to make herself sound younger, and then also lies about other stuff for no apparent reason. She says a picture of her 15-year-old son is actually her ex, and the guy buys it, which . . . I don't even know. ANYWAY. Once her lies are eventually revealed, the show implies that she shouldn't have lied because it just makes her more worthless and pitiful - but there's no suggestion that she shouldn't have lied because she was worth dating as she actually was, without feeling the need to change herself.

In another "Is lying actually bad?" subplot, Rebecca's teenaged son passes off one of the adult character's short stories as his own. As you can probably predict, this is actually a set-up for jokes in which the teacher says the stories aren't very good and the actual author, who is supposed to be a writer of some sort, is offended. But no one seems concerned about the cheating aspect. And, I don't know, it's not like I demand my TV shows adhere to some high moral standard. I'll defend Gossip Girl with my last breath, for heaven's sake, and some absolutely reprehensible things have happened on that show. But they always happen for a reason. Here, it was just - careless. A cheap laugh. And it made the teenager into another non-character.

The other main subplot was about one of the men (and I remember the name of neither character, nor their supposed relationships with Rebecca, so you can see how memorable this all is. Actually, I had to look up Rebecca's name, too) who starts dating a woman who wants to be spanked, among other things that the man finds objectionable. In a general sense, this subplot was playing for laughs the idea that a woman who is sexually assertive, and who knows what she wants, is scary and unfeminine and necessarily emasculates her partner. And - seriously, haven't we gotten past that yet?

More specifically, it was this subplot that brought the line that almost made me turn off the TV right then; I'm paraphrasing, but it was something close to "I have to go over there and beat the crap out of her so she'll love me." I understand that it was trying to be a joke about consensual behavior, but it missed. It became an unfunny "joke" about domestic violence instead. I won't say that TV shows shouldn't be allowed to joke about that, or any specific subject. I'm all for freedom of speech, and pretty much any subject can be used effectively in fiction. But I have no interest in watching something that treats this serious subject so carelessly as to use it in a throwaway line that wasn't even funny.

Posted by Kat at April 20, 2010 03:20 PM

The thing is, your average guy (cover your innocent ears) would be, um, rather OTHER than offended by a woman who was sexually assertive. I think. I don't have a WHOLE lot of experience here, but I am married to a guy, and he knows a lot of guys and the consensus seems to be... that I'm kind of digging a hole here and maybe I should take my blog link off this comment JUST IN CASE.

Also loosely related is the reason Alyssa Milano is a popular actress: it's the same reason Leonardo DiCaprio is. (Or was? I've heard he may have actually learned to act at one point. True?) People like to look at her. Tied into that, for guys, you have the fact that a lot of your 30's- and 40's-aged guys nowadays grew up fantasizing about her and she's still pretty.

I saw you post the Long Island thing on Twitter, and frankly, as a West Coaster, I didn't get it at ALL. New York and Long Island ARE separate cities, no? I mean, it seems to me like saying, "I'm not from San Francisco. I'm from San Jose, actually," or "I'm not from Los Angeles, I'm from Pasadena," in that those are places that are near each other and sometimes lumped in together (greater LA area, Bay Area) but they're definitely separate cities with different "vibes". Not funny, just true.

Posted by: Rachel at April 20, 2010 04:12 PM

I appreciate you watching the episode anyhow, Kat. We knew going in that this was a genre where our interests didn't truly overlap.

I found a lot to like about the show myself. (Not trying to convince you, just explaining what I saw.)

The acting was overboard a few times, and the writing could have been more clever and subtle. But I saw lots of elements that have potential. For me, the show had more good than bad, and I can totally see it fixing its flaws and becoming popular.

Kelly Stables (playing the sister) came across to me as a little Kristin Chenowitz, a little Megan Mulally. I think she must have a Broadway background - she has a dancer's moves, and a voice that projects.

She came across as over-acting several times, but as they establish the psycho nature of her character, I think they'll find a balance where she seems appropriately excessive.

It's worth remembering that this is the very first episode they recorded. Tweaking will happen, characterizations will be adjusted, the actors will find their groove and chemistry.

Many of the best moments were with the guys, Kyle Bornheimer and Josh Lawson. I would actually love to see a buddies/roommates sitcom featuring them. Not to cut Alyssa out of the fun, but the scenes between just the guys were almost magic.

I see your points about some of the story lines they choose to use, and the attitudes those expressed. Those aren't enough to turn me off the show, but I quite understand how they make you feel about it.

If they nurture it properly, Romantically Challenged has a chance. Like all shows, though, it's not necessarily for everyone.

Thanks again for watching along last night!

Posted by: Cocoonivus at April 20, 2010 04:28 PM
Post a comment

Remember personal info?

Page design by fluffa! Hosted at prettyposies.com. Powered by Movable Type 3.2