The Ex List: Series Premiere

The Ex List is as easy-breezy as its Ocean Beach, California setting. Florist Bella Bloom (Elizabeth Reeser) is on a mission to find “The One” among the men she has already dated. Along for the ride are her engaged sister, Daphne (Rachel Boston), and roommates Augie (Adam Rothenberg), Vivian (Alexandra Breckenridge), and Cyrus (Amir Talai). Together, this ensemble provides for some genuinely funny comedy.

Adapted from the Israeli television show Mythological X and premiering October 3 on CBS, The Ex List opens on the eve of Daphne’s bachelorette party. Bella has her fortune told by a psychic named Marina (Anne Nahabedian). She warns, “If you don’t get married within the year, you’re never gonna marry.” Oh, and another thing: she should know that she once involved with her future husband.

At first Bella balks, but after Marina’s other predictions come true, she tracks down former boyfriend Johnny “Freaking” Diamant (Eric Balfour), whom she dumped seven years prior. In a flashback to their breakup, Johnny is a weepy, shaggy-haired guitarist in flannel, crooning about Bella to a boardwalk audience of one. Fast-forward to now, and he is a tattooed, leather-clad bad-ass with heavily lined eyes and a chip on his shoulder. He’s still singing about Bella, but his lyrics are coarser this time around: “Bitch! / Left me on my birthday/ Birthday wishes dead / Bitch / Left me on my birthdaaaay!” Despite his hard feelings, it’s clear the two are still attracted to one another, so Bella persuades Johnny to give dating another go. Her friends are skeptical. “Didn’t he once want to suck your blood?” Augie asks. “Drink my blood,” Bella corrects, “like in a nice way.”

For Bella, the key to the future lies in the past, just as it does for Earl Hickey in My Name Is Earl and Samantha Newly in Samantha Who? All three comedies are somewhat regressive in conception: because the lead characters are compelled to correct their past mistakes, they have an excuse not to pursue anything (or anyone) new. Bride-to-be Daphne sums up the lure of familiarity over the unexpected: “Sometimes when I’m out and I look at all the men, it makes me want to go home and, like, knit [my fiancé] Marty a sweater or something.” Bella quickly learns that revisiting former relationships comes with its own set of problems, however, when she and Johnny fall back into uncomfortable patterns.

Reaser’s charming performance as Bella is supported by a terrific ensemble cast. Their relaxed, lived-in rapport is remarkable for a pilot; Breckenridge and Boston are especially loose and sunny. Unfortunately, the material doesn’t always match their talents. References to “happy endings” and girl-on-girl crushes aren’t edgy, but rather, crass. Frankly, I couldn’t help picturing what my dad’s reaction would be to the B storyline about Vivian’s experiment in extreme pubic-hair grooming. Shaking his head, he’d sigh, “Boy, television sure has changed.” And yet Sex and the City tackled the topic in at least three separate episodes as well as in the movie. Who knew there was so much to say? Still, Bella’s exasperated response to Vivian’s Brazilian wax (a.k.a. “The Gandhi”) — “You teach high school history! You should have pubic hair!” — did make me laugh, so maybe the topic hasn’t been exhausted after all. Writers everywhere, rejoice.

The Ex List is indebted to Sex and the City in other ways, and now that Carrie and company are all beyond 40 and married (save for Samantha), Bella is poised to carry the mantel for single 30something viewers itching to land a lifelong romantic commitment. The supernatural premise underlying Bella’s quest may be fantastic, but the urgent desire to find a husband “before it’s too late” is unfortunately all too common. Creator Diane Ruggiero (who has already left the show) acknowledges singleton anxiety while gently poking fun at it, as when Daphne pooh-poohs Marina’s powers: “I love you,” she tells Bella, “But you’re 33. It doesn’t take a psychic to know you have, like, a year left to get married.”

RATING 7 / 10