It’s hard not to think of television as a demotion for former Batman and Robin vixen Alicia Silverstone. Especially on network television which, with the advent of edgier cable competition, has become the missionary position of the small screen. Yet, every fall from grace in Hollywood has the potential to be fortuitous if it is successful. On Miss Match, Silverstone plays Kate Fox, a divorce lawyer known in her circle of friends as an ace partner finder. When the wedding section of the Los Angeles Times misinterprets a zealous toast from the bride extolling Kate’s virtue as a matchmaker by making it sound like she’s a professional date guru, the calls from desperate singles begin flooding her law office.
In many ways, Silverstone is revamping the role of Cher Horowitz from Clueless. Like Cher, Kate has a penchant for hooking up friends and acquaintances with their better halves. She’s similarly adorable in that way that makes you want to comb the manes of a full set of plastic toy ponies. One can’t help but notice that the show also seems to be milking that brand of Legally Blonde feminism, wherein women proclaim their assertiveness in full-on cheerleader mode without suggesting for a second that a woman could be happy without making sure there’s another vine of a relationship waiting to be clung to once the first one has run its course. If lip-glossed, slumber-partying femininity chafes you in any way, Miss Match is unlikely to make your list of must see television.
Entering the experience with low expectations, I found myself warmed by the show’s premise as well as its knick-knack dramedy. Producer Darren Star (Sex and the City, Melrose Place) cobbles together some of the more endearing elements of his small screen successes into Miss Match. Kate is kind of a Sweet Valley High doppelganger for Carrie Bradshaw. An unmarried woman in a fast-paced metropolis, she has little epiphanies watching the flailing cries of love from those around her.
Unlike Bradshaw, Kate is an unabashed romantic, palm pressed to heart, and wandering through the city looking for any and every opportunity to mix and match lonely hearts like so many Garanimal sets. She is naïve, devoid of cynicism and zealous concerning her newly named talent. At one point, the man she’s setting up as a test case asks her pointedly: “Has it occurred to you that there might be some people who enjoy being alone?” Without skipping a beat, she beams: “No.”
Thankfully, the writers toss in some complications to break up the show’s beach-ball buoyancy. Much of the first show explores Kate’s relationship with her father, Sid (played with maximum greasiness by Ryan O’Neal), a classic shit-heel lawyer for whom ethics are speed bumps on the way to a paycheck. Upon graduating from law school, she starts working in her father’s firm in the hopes that working together will somehow bridge the yawning gulf between them. Kate’s romanticism and her desire to make over the self-esteem of their clients repeatedly place her at odds with her father’s shark-eyed view of the world. There’s also a heavy intimation, after Kate’s visit to her lounge singer mother (JoBeth Williams), that, in future episodes, she will pull something from her quiver for her bitterly estranged, divorced parents.
Her hapless trip into the world of date-maker snowballs rapidly, culminating in her first paying client. With the help of her sassy bartender accomplice and best friend, Victoria (Lake Bell), she mashes together the lovelorn with a service that is equal parts confessional and makeover. Her initially perfect record collapses quickly, as several matches are, in fact, far from perfect. She comes to question the wisdom of her profession and her own haphazardly made choices.
The show’s only moment of flat-out bafflement comes when Kate decides to cut loose her boyfriend after he complains about the amount of luggage she’s bringing on a trip. With no foreshadowing of trouble in this paradise, her boyfriend’s insta-morph into asshole creates an unnecessarily obvious lapse in script credibility in a show that already requires Olympic suspensions of disbelief.
From a strategic standpoint, Miss Match could stand to be edgier. In today’s comedy environment, it takes a spoon full of cynicism to make the sugar go down. Miss Match almost harks back to an earlier age of television, when reality would magically conform to the whims of a doe-eyed innocent. Though PAX TV has marketed this kind of nostalgia, it’s difficult to know how Miss Match will play out amongst its jaded brethren.
If Elimidate and Ally McBeal could be cross-bred with Jane Austen’s Emma, you might come close to approximating Miss Match‘s tone. Gather around your non-judgmental friends, the ones who can handle enamel-eroding doses of pop culture and plug into the fantasy that the brutal, vulnerable fumbling towards love is just a plucky professional away from consummation. With Silverstone’s off-centered grins, champagne bubbles of optimism, and nevercare hair, surrender has never been so easy.