In case two or three of you have escaped the WB’s promotional campaign, let me catch you up: Related comes from “creative forces” behind Sex and the City (executive story editor Liz Tuccillo) and Friends (co-creator Marta Kauffman). Tuccillo also co-authored that Oprah-endorsed dating guide born of a Miranda subplot — He’s Just Not That Into You — and I am exercising great restraint in not repurposing her title to sum up how I feel about this wacky, nouveau Sisters.
Instead, let’s skip to my amazement: given its pedigree, Related makes its performance anxiety annoyingly audible. The first three episodes are teeming with noise, via non-stop sisterly chatter and a syncopated, Sex-y soundtrack. What’s worse, the beats of TV life in the city give way with lumbering, intelligence-insulting force when the show expects you to stop, feel, and cry.
Such is the case in tonight’s “Hang In There, Baby,” as eldest sister Ginnie (Jennifer Esposito) continues to panic over her surprise pregnancy. Learning that husband Bob (Callum Blue) is afraid of heights, she reasons that she’ll be the parent forced to save their child should he or she get stuck up a tree. Kindly ignoring her illogic — and his fears — Bob climbs a tree to prove his fatherly worth. The bombastic music clunks into schmaltzy piano long enough for him to bring on the cheese: “You’ve got to have a little faith, all right darling?” As this is Act Four, Ginnie does. And as Bob is a Brit, Related really botches the scene — and telegraphs its own lack of faith in its target female audience — by rounding him out with music cues. His accent would have done the job nicely all on its own, thank you.
If time slot is any indicator (and it always is), teen girls — the culprits behind lead-in One Tree Hill‘s incomprehensible popularity — are the WB’s target. Only one of the four Sorelli sisters (coed Rose, played by Laura Breckenridge) is a teen herself, but the quartet’s fashionable, funny, familiar problems are just the stuff young girls’ ill-formed expectations for the future are made of. Better yet, each sister conforms to a clear type (recall the “I’m a Carrie”/”I’m a Charlotte” t-shirt craze). Nurturing, neurotic, ever stylish, Ginnie works long hours as an attorney climbing the corporate ladder, while plainer Ann (Kiele Sanchez) is a therapist perhaps too well versed in counseling-speak. Both worry about 23-year-old Marjee (Lizzy Kaplan), one of those wild middle sisters who emerge into the wider world desperate for attention and status, while all three tell poor Rose what to do.
In the pilot, Rose briefly found a way around their meddling by making decisions on her own. Once pre-med, she started the new school year by switching her major to experimental theatre, and in a development straight out of the Felicity playbook, was paired with a tough, dismissive roommate. Anxious to fit in — and to stop listening to her sisters’ voices in her head — she pierced her tongue and dyed her hair blue. Her widower dad (Tom Irwin) and the sisters were horrified — not least because they all count on Rose to do as she’s told. It’s what they love about her, Marjee tells her.
Just so, Related spins on the axes of consensus and conflict. The girls talk constantly, en masse and in pairs, in person for a card game they invented (according to the WB’s press materials) or by phone chain as they go about their lives. They make time for men and work, but have few discernible outside friends.
The result feels strangely empty and hamstrung. The basic episode structure is so clear — a storyline for each girl, several tangentially tied to some theme they can revisit in the aw-shucks denouement — that where it’s going is beside the point and how it gets there is mildly interesting at best. With the exception of Esposito’s maddeningly hush-voiced, cooing Ginnie — she plays her as ever verklempt — the leads are fine, if hardly memorable. Free of the pilot’s introductory demands, the show’s follow-up episodes settle into rote soap opera situations (dumped girl sings karaoke love songs, awful boss has a secret method to her madness) and didactic emotional lessons. If you like your soaps without novelty, nuance, or bite, Related has four girls for you.