We are in the new golden age of romantic comedies.
No, I’m not talking about that new Nicholas Sparks movie where James Marsden romances Tom Cruise’s wife from Mission Impossible. I’m talking about romantic comedies that have finally found their rightful home—not on the silver screen, but on the small screen instead.
To find an example of this phenomenon, one has to look no further than FOX sitcom The Mindy Project. In the past couple years, the Mindy Kaling-helmed series has achieved moderate success for its cheeky yet reverent take on rom-com tropes and drawn audiences in with its slow-burn will-they-or-won’t-they arc for its two leads that spanned the first two seasons.
Despite the show’s humble ratings, television critics have been quick to laud Mindy for nailing the serialized rom-com formula—a formula that, until now, no other American sitcom was attempting to replicate. However, this year, network executives have finally taken notice of this gap in the market and subsequently picked up a whole batch of relationship-centered sitcoms for this 2014 season.
One such sitcom is ABC’s Selfie, which features Doctor Who’s Karen Gillan and Sleepy Hollow’s John Cho as its uber-charming leads. A 21st century take on My Fair Lady, Selfie follows its social media-obsessed heroine Eliza Dooley (Gillan) as she attempts to reinvent her image, with the help of PR consultant Henry Higgs (Cho).
With a name like Selfie, the show runs the risk of scaring off viewers who are well-aware of television’s iffy track record of keeping up with modern technology. Too often, shows are bogged down with terrible text-message graphics and unnecessary references to Facebook or Twitter in an attempt to stay relevant. Selfie manages to walk the fine line between pandering and tech-savvy with its hyper-realistic depictions of Instagram posts and iMessage chats, rarely ever using its social media references as a crutch but instead using them as a tool to illustrate the extent to which technology has infiltrated our everyday interactions.
But we haven’t even gotten to the romance of it all yet. While Eliza and Henry have yet to take the leap from friends to lovers, their journey from acquaintances to friends has been the stuff of rom-com dreams. Their first meeting in the pilot showed them to be polar opposites that could barely stand to be in the same room as each other, but every episode since has brought the two of them closer together—both as individual personalities and as friends. Just as Henry is working to connect Eliza with the real world, Eliza is sculpting Henry into a more well-rounded person just by being his unlikely friend.
While Selfie is equal parts romance and comedy, NBC’s A to Z is quite a different story. A rom-com that doubles down on the rom and lightly sprinkles on the com, the series stars How I Met Your Mother’s Cristin Milioti and Mad Men’s Ben Feldman as lovebirds Andrew and Zelda (you know, A and Z). The show title actually serves as something of an ominous double entendre; an omniscient narrator tells us in the pilot that Andrew and Zelda will date for eight months, three weeks, five days, and one hour, with the show serving as the “comprehensive account of their relationship—from A to Z.”
But despite how it sounds, the show isn’t some dark comedy awaiting the inevitable termination of its main relationship. Aided by the storybook-style narration and the delightful chemistry between Milioti and Feldman, one can easily get lost in the wide-eyed cuteness of it all.
Because A to Z is super cute. And I don’t mean just cute, I mean Cute with a capital C written in curly cursive. A to Z exists in a world where people point adorably at each other through glass windows and love-at-first-sight plays out in slow-motion with confetti raining down from the ceiling. The show is not ashamed to be the televisual embodiment of a hopeless romantic, and whether or not you’ll enjoy it is entirely dependent on whether you are one too.
Standing in stark contrast to the rose-coloured whimsy of A to Z, NBC’s other big rom-com of the season is Marry Me (also known as The Show That Happy Endings Built). If you’re not one of the four million viewers that regularly tuned into the cancelled cult comedy, you may not be familiar with creator David Caspe or his unsinkable leading lady (and real-life spouse), Casey Wilson.
If you were one of the lucky few that got to experience Happy Endings during its initial run, the comedic tone of Marry Me should feel quite familiar. Caspe’s presence permeates every corner of the show, not only through his unmistakable writing voice—sharp and lightning-quick, but grounded in heart—but also in a much more physical way; the comedy is loosely based on his real-life relationship with Wilson.
Special emphasis on the ‘loosely.’ Marry Me opens on its two romantic leads, Annie (Wilson) and Jake (Party Down’s Ken Marino) having a blowout fight—it’s been six years since they started dating, and Annie has had it with the fact that Jake still hasn’t proposed. So when they get back from their romantic getaway and Annie’s ring finger is still sans ring, she immediately takes him to task for all of his shortcomings, even dragging their closest friends and family into the mix. One awkward thing though—while Annie has her back turned on him in her never-ending tirade, Jake’s already down on one knee with an engagement ring in hand (and all their aforementioned friends and family are waiting in the wings to celebrate the happy occasion).
That’s the thing about Marry Me; it’s confident enough in the strengths of its lead actors to immediately show their characters at their most unlikable and still have faith that viewers will come back for the next episode.
But maybe that’s what makes love so funny, that someone can see you at your very worst and still want to come back for more. Or maybe I’m just trying to wrap things up with a neat little bow so that you’ll stop reading this article and download the latest episode of Selfie on iTunes. Love is mysterious that way; you never know what the other person is thinking.