Regular airtime: Mondays, 11pm EST (Lifetime)
Cast: Jane Lynch, Sam Pancake, Jennifer Elise Cox, Wendi McLendon-Covey, Jack Plotnick, Mystro Clark
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I really dislike The Office. I’ve tried to watch it, but haven’t made it through a single episode. The characters are obnoxious and unfunny, and I can’t help wondering why any rational human would work in that hell-hole.
Still, I realize that there are those who love this show. PopMatters’ Jesse Hicks rated the first season a 9, and the show has developed a loyal following. I mention this to indicate where my sense of humor lies, which is not in docu- comedies whose characters I would avoid in real life (see also: Arrested Development).
Lovespring International, Lifetime’s new improvisational comedy, is The Office set in a dating service. The characterizations, storylines, comic pacing, even the comic pacing, are so similar to The Office that I found myself making mental comparisons throughout the premiere episode: Vicki (Jane Lynch) is a female version of The Office‘s Michael (Steve Carrell), and so on. As in The Office, I found Lovespring‘s characters to be obnoxious and unfunny, and couldn’t help wondering why any rational human would work in this hell-hole. In the promos for Lovespring International, executive producer Eric McCormack notes that after eight years on Will & Grace, he really “knows” comedy. It would be nice if he put some of that knowledge to use.
Having said all that, I will give Lovespring International credit for a clever opening segment, a documentary-style introduction to the employees and purpose of the company called Lovespring, which quickly catches viewers up on who’s who. As it turns out, the video is a promotion for the dating service. Once it ends and the characters begin interacting with one another, all creativity ends.
Though they declare themselves “happy” in the video commercial, none is. Vicki, the driven and egotistical manager, spends most of her time railing at employees and threatening to fire them. Burke (Sam Pancake) and Lydia (Wendi McLendon-Covey) are the service’s matchmakers, and both are involved in secret romances: he’s in a gay relationship with his wife’s brother, and she’s having a 20-year affair with a married man. Steve (Jack Plotnick), the in-house psychologist, soothes an unhappy customer by bedding her. Ditzy receptionist Tiffany (Jennifer Elise Cox) growls at the customers and passes judgment on why they can’t get dates on their own. Only videographer Alex (Mystro Clark) doesn’t appear to “have issues,” but I’m sure they are forthcoming.
The staff members’ misery is matched by that of their clients. The premiere episode introduced longtime client Mindy (guest Lindsey Stoddart), dissatisfied because, she claims, every man they’ve found falls in love with her. Consequently, she is considering leaving Lovespring in favor of PerfectMatch.com, which sends Vicki over the edge. She rails at Burke and Lydia, “Do you know how many people have signed up for Perfectmatch.com in the last five minutes? 1,623.”
This is the first of many plugs for the internet dating service, which just happens to be a sponsor of the series. In one of the most shameless cases of product placement on tv, Lovespring International never misses a chance to mention what a threat PerfectMatch is for the independent dating service and the internet services’ numbers of happy customers. Apparently, E-Harmony and the dozens of other online dating sites pose no threat, as they are never mentioned.
To battle PerfectMatch, Burke and Lydia suggest video feedback, in which daters record their impressions of their dates. They try out the new plan on Mindy, and the video confessions reveal that her dates found her hair-flipping habit so annoying that they wouldn’t pursue a relationship with her. Unfortunately, Burke and Alex get drunk while editing the feedback tape, so that it loops every negative comment made about Mindy, driving the woman to tears when she sees it. It is an all-night sexfest with Steve that calms her down, thereby preventing Lydia from firing Burke, Lydia, and Alex.
This storyline reveals the show’s major flaws (other than not being funny). The idea of video feedback is actually a good one, and I imagine most video daters would welcome the chance to participate. However, this first failure leads the company to discard the idea. Any attentive viewer can see that offensive editing is the problem, not the actual feedback, and a little retuning might turn the video feedback concept into a valuable marketing tool.
But none of these characters thinks past the moment. It’s difficult to believe that six people can be so self-absorbed and shortsighted, let alone gathered in the same workplace, but someone apparently thought they’d be funny so compressed. Such lack of imagination is most evident in Steve. Plotnick is an extremely handsome actor, but here his slick-backed hair and cheesy fake mustache scream “‘70s disco.” By turns cocky and insecure, he straddles stereotypes, both full of anxiety.
Only Tiffany provides laughs, but her droll observations about her coworkers only highlight what is wrong here. Producers should consider giving Cox a spin-off, with Tiffany at the forefront, and scrap the original series. But then, the spin-off would probably be yet another docu-style comedy, and I still wouldn’t like it. I’d prefer to be single and celibate than have to spend time with these dating experts.