"Romantically Challenged" not likely to win hearts

Fri Apr 16, 2010 8:30pm EDT
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By Barry Garron

LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) - With "Friends" long gone and "How I Met Your Mother" approaching veteran status, America must certainly be yearning for a new comedy about young, attractive friends who meet frequently for beverages and whose conversation spans the gamut of subjects from dating to sex to relationships to sex to physical characteristics to sex.

Could the nation be thirsting for "Romantically Challenged"? Probably not, at least based on the episode made available by ABC. Still, one could see a few good reasons for developing this multicamera sitcom, which premieres Monday (April 19).

First and foremost is executive producer/director James Burrows. Not only can he get more out of a so-so script and a weak premise than just about anyone in the studio-laughter business, but he proves it here. (It's not that the script from Ted Cohen and Andrew Reich lacks jokes. To the contrary, it substitutes laughs for character and story development.)

Brooks papers over these defects to a degree with his eye for camera angles, keen sense of timing and breezy pace. As a result, the premiere is much better than anyone has a right to expect it to be. And with Burrows at the helm, the four co-stars -- Alyssa Milano, Kelly Stables, Kyle Bornheimer and Josh Lawson -- are nearly pitch-perfect in their delivery.

Milano plays Rebecca Thomas, newly divorced after 15 years of marriage. Stables is her younger sister, Lisa, a walking encyclopedia on hooking up. Bornheimer, unforgettable as the luckless newlywed in "Worst Week," plays Perry Gill, a workaholic financial planner and a romantic. Lawson is his freeloading friend and roommate, Shawn, an aspiring novelist.

To sum up, we've got a drop-dead gorgeous star who has no confidence and no idea how to meet men, a would-be writer enjoying a middle-class existence with no visible means of support, an extremely eligible financial planner with a taste for romance and a celibate lifestyle, and a woman whose chief cause is the advocacy of one-night stands amid a real-life epidemic of STDs.

Granted, no one would accuse "Friends" or "How I Met Your Mother" of dead-on realism. Still, their vision of love and friendship struck a chord with viewers, most of whom could relate to at least some of their travails.

"Challenged," on the other hand, seems preoccupied with keeping the beat for a steady rhythm of jokes, even as it challenges viewers to ignore the implausibility of its premise.

It will get a boost by airing right after "Dancing With the Stars." It will need it.

<p>Actress Alyssa Milano poses at the premiere of "Clash of the Titans" at the Grauman's Chinese theatre in Hollywood, California March 31, 2010. REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni</p>