The “bad blind date” storyline is a sitcom staple. After lamenting the sorry state of his/her love life, our protagonist is set up on a blind date by a well-meaning friend. The date turns out to be the biggest weirdo in town. Viewers then laugh as our “normal” hero tries to wheedle his/her way out of the date.
Committed assumes that there is someone out there for everyone, including those freakish souls who serve as comic fodder for sitcom protagonists. The new NBC sitcom follows the blossoming romance of Nate (Josh Cooke) and Marni (Jennifer Finnigan), two souls so quirky and obsessive that both are in the running for the title of “biggest weirdo in town,” here, New York City.
Nate is from a family of geniuses, who have all gone insane when they’ve reached their “potential.” He, too, is a genius, but is resisting his destiny by working in a used record store, where he will achieve no “potential.” Marni, an occupational therapist, has little grasp of appropriate social behavior (laughingly telling one first date about the time she realized her uncle shouldn’t touch her “there”), but she is mightily optimistic. She also has a dying clown (Tom Poston) residing in her living room closet, although his ailment isn’t clear. Marni explains that he came with the apartment, and lives in the closet because “he’s used to small spaces.”
In the premiere episode, Nate and Marni meet when each has been set up on a blind date by their best buds: macho male Bowie (Darius McCrary) for Nate and Tess (Tammy Lynn Michaels), the lazy nanny who lives across the hall from Marni. Nate and Marni are immediately attracted to one another, but a predictable series of misunderstandings keeps them guessing about the other’s feelings until the episode’s end. One gets the impression that the writers felt stock sitcom situations would become fresh and new if the characters performing them were crazy.
Eccentric characters can be funny yet endearing, of course. From Lucy Ricardo to Cosmo Kramer to Karen Walker, characters who think in ways a little off-center have been making people laugh for years. But their errors are recognizable and sympathetic: they say and do what most of us wish we could. Committed offers no such characters. They’re all just strange.
When Nate arrives for his second date with Marni, he finds her seated at a table with Todd (guest star RonReaco Lee), a friend she’s brought along on the date. Nate objects to his presence, but feels horrible guilt about asking him to leave once he realizes Todd is wheelchair-bound (he’s referred to as the “passive aggressive paraplegic”). The studio audience laughed uncontrollably as Nate hung his head in shame and Todd tried to work his wheelchair through the maze of tables in the restaurant.
This scene illustrates Committed‘s primary failure: every aspect is overblown: Todd’s melodramatic reactions to his difficulties exiting the restaurant left me wondering how he managed to get to his table in the first place. Such situations are not helped by the actors, who are equally over the top. Cooke is all wild mannerisms and hyperactivity, while Finnigan makes Marni excessively vacuous. Hopefully, the series will never have a special hour-long episode, because the cast would most likely hurt themselves filming it.
Like its central characters, Committed could use some good downers. By reining in its characterizations, the show might focus on the romance that is the show’s central story arc. David and Maddie on Moonlighting, Dharma and Greg, and Phoebe and Mike on Friends were endearing couples because the oddball characters were paired with rational partners, and you believed the mutual attractions. Neither Nate nor Marni have a guide towards appropriate conduct, and their quirks are likely to intensify with time rather than be alleviated.
Which begs the question: where is this series headed? The sheer array of sociological disorders Marni and Nate reveal makes it difficult to think they have a chance. These same disorders also indicate that the show will continue with its frantic story-telling; to do otherwise would require a shift in characterization of Marni or Nate, thus altering the basic premise of the show.
Which would not be a bad idea, as it would be difficult to care about the relationship as the show is currently conceived. The show would best be served if the writers began to use the foundation they have laid to explore the dynamics of human relationships instead of putting their characters into cheesy and foreseeable situations. Still, some reviewers, such as Robert Bianco of USA Today and Alessandra Stanley of The New York Times, are holding out hope for Committed, labeling it a “fresh” idea poorly executed and arguing that it should be given a chance because of the lack of sitcom options. Maybe it’s me, but I don’t find the need for a Friends replacement to justify badly written sitcoms.