Mad Love tells the parallel stories of one couple’s love at first sight and their best friends’ hate at first meeting. Unfortunately, neither is particularly convincing.
Ben (Jason Biggs) meets Kate (Sarah Chalke) on the observation deck of the Empire State Building. She finds his cellphone; he finds her favorite hat. When they make the exchange, they fall in love. Meanwhile, Ben’s best friend, Larry (Tyler Labine), and Kate’s best friend, Connie (Judy Greer) have their first encounter at a bar. He hits on her; she rebuffs him. Then, they find out that they are both there to meet their friends’ new significant others.
A group of funny young professionals in New York City is certainly not a groundbreaking premise for a sitcom, but it is does have a pretty good pedigree. Like many other new shows this season, Mad Love has its sights set on successful predecessors like Friends and Seinfeld. In this first episode, Ben and Kate play out a relationship that usually takes years on other shows. But this misses the point: no one would have cared about Ross and Rachel if they had worked through their issues in the first 22 minutes.
Everything in the pilot of Mad Love feels too easy and so, a little bit lazy. Take the meet-cute premise at the Empire State Building: after An Affair to Remember (both of them) and Sleepless in Seattle, that idea seems pretty much covered. Mad Love tosses in some complications, of course. For instance, Ben neglects to break up with his current girlfriend before diving in with Kate. The girlfriend, Erin (Rachel Boston), is such a caricature that her early exit is a relief, though her belligerent malapropisms do provide some of the episode’s few funny moments.
This deception should be enough to make Kate doubt Ben, but the show doesn’t pursue that well-worn plot twist. Instead¸ it’s dismissed and replaced with a far less believable misunderstanding, when Kate sees what appears to be Ben making out with another girl. Turns out he was just stuck to her earring after a chaste farewell hug, which is a common occurrence only in sitcom-land. Without much evidence, Kate takes Ben’s word, which makes her seem a bit gullible. The viewer knows Ben is a good guy, but it feels like cheating to have her intuit what we’ve seen.
Ben and Kate’s togetherness isn’t much of a surprise, and their story gains nothing by running on this pilot’s treadmill for a half hour. Which brings us to their apparent opposites: Larry and Connie. It seems that we’re meant to take them as curmudgeons in the Seinfeld vein. But we’re also supposed to believe that they immediately dislike each other. It seems that their shared jaded worldview would make them friends, or at least comrades in arms.
Mad Love is too timid to turn these two into true misanthropes like George Costanza. So by the end of the pilot, they’re working together to get Ben and Kate back together, which is as boring as it sounds. It might have been better if they worked together to keep their irrationally lovestruck friends apart.
Still, it’s tempting to have hope for future episodes of Mad Love, based on the actors’ talent alone. They’ve done very funny work in other shows and movies, from Scrubs to Saving Silverman to 13 Going on 30. If the show would deemphasize its already tired premise, it might be another decent comedy about four quirky friends in the city. We’ve seen talented casts make that concept work before.