CBS’ new sitcom, Mad Love [Mondays, 8:30/7:30C] has a sweet spot on the schedule, following as it does, How I Met Your Mother. Add Jason Biggs [American Pie Trilogy] and Sarah Chalke [Scrubs] and things are definitely looking good. Then, toss Tyler Labine [Reaper, Sons of Tucson] and Judy Greer [Arrested Development, Love & Other Drugs] into the mix and you have an inveterate cast of scene stealers – and a premise that gives them plenty of room to work.
Ben [Biggs] and Kate [Chalke] meet cute at the top of the Empire State Building when he returns to for a forgotten phone, which she finds. The phone is red which leads to a couple of Batman/Commissioner Gordon jokes that reveal the two have similar senses of humor. Their chemistry is palpable, but Ben has a problem – he has to dump his domineering fiancée – which leads to confusion and bitterness when said fiancée arrives at Ben’s apartment to get a key so that she can movie, and Ben and Kate have spent the night together. Just talking, but still… Awkward!
In and around this development is the fact that Ben’s best friend, Larry [Labine] and Kate’s BFF, Connie [Greer] have come to a kind of hate-at-first-bad-pickup-line. Still, because the two have their best friends’ best interests in mind, they begrudgingly decide to help them get together. Obstacles and occasional hilarity ensue.
Written by series co-creator [with Biggs] Matt Tarses and directed by Pamela Fryman, the series premiere, Fireworks, works more often than not. Biggs and Chalke have great chemistry, as do Labine and Greer. The main problem – at least for audiences – is that Ben and Kate appear to be the A couple and Larry and Connie, the B-uncouple, so it may feel a bit to see that all four characters have about the same amount of time onscreen.
The idea that a couple’s best friends might not like each other [or, as in this case, pretty much hate each other] is a fresh twist for a network sitcom and what gives the premiere weight is that both pairs of characters are given a bit of development right off the bat. So, while it might seem odd that the expected second bananas are not actually secondary characters, the result is a show that has plenty of room to grow and develop into something that can keep an audience’s attention in the same way that How I Met Your Mother does.
And, speaking of HIMYM, Mad Love also has a narrator, though it’s Larry, not Ben –a device that adds to concept of all four characters being equally important. It also gives us an unreliable narrator, so the events we see don’t always match up exactly with Larry’s version.
One of the show’s taglines suggests that Larry and Connie might only hate each other… for now. Voila! Instant suspense. Also, if Larry and Connie find each becoming more appealing over time, might Ben and Kate find themselves following the reverse evolution in their relationship?
As you might expect, with four talented comic actors being unleashed in one series, there is scene stealing on everyone’s part, though it does seem, at times, that Ben and Kate, sweet as they are, might be overshadowed by Larry and Connie.
The one problem with fireworks is that at least one of the obstacles that keep Ben and Kate apart until the ep’s conclusion is way too obvious and not particularly well handled in just its simple execution. On the other hand, there are a lot of good lines and the rest of the ep is smartly done.
Given its overall quality, fresh premise and terrific cast, Mad Love has the potential to stay in the game over the long haul.
Final Grade: B