A good TV show can make us laugh. It can make us cry. It can make us fall in love with the characters and welcome them into our lives like old friends. Then there’s another kind; the kind that attempts to woo viewers into believing it’s one of the good ones. These do nothing but clothe themselves in the reputations of others, winding up as an insult to the audience. It’s sad to see such a show make it onto network airwaves, but better to recognize this menace early on than be tricked by its innocent exterior. CBS’s “Mad Love” is such a show. It lowers the bar for all television everywhere.
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“Mad Love” stars Jason Biggs as Ben Parr, a young New York City lawyer searching for romance. His character talks and acts so similar to Biggs’s character from the “American Pie” franchise it’s laughable. The love interest in question is Kate Swanson (Sarah Chalke, “Scrubs”), another thirty-something who’s looking to find “the one.” Unfortunately, Chalke left her A-game back at Sacred Heart hospital. For that matter, she left her B and C game as well. Granted, it’s not her fault her character has the depth of a cardboard box and spouts non-sequiturs masquerading as one-liners. But it is her fault for walking through the role and giving us only Dr. Elliot Reed on a bad day.
The pilot episode opens with a voiceover from Ben’s best friend Larry (Tyler Labine, “Reaper”). “This fairy tale will be different because I’m telling it,” he says. It’s an interesting premise, yet it proceeds to depict an ordinary boy-meets-girl storyline that goes something like this: Ben and Kate meet by chance at the top of the Empire State Building due to a lucky mix-up with a cell phone and a hat. From the moment they set eyes on one another, there’s a connection that can’t be denied. This happens about five minutes into the episode. After this point things start to go downhill — way downhill.
Ben and Kate both have annoying best friends who offer obnoxious relationship advice. These friends can’t stand each other (though there is some unnecessary sexual tension between them). Ben screws things up with Kate. Kate gets upset. Then she forgives him. This process repeats itself over and over again. Thus, this fairy tale is not different. It’s ordinary at best.
Young professionals searching for love in the big city is a formula that’s worked well in the past — most recently on CBS’s “How I Met Your Mother,” a series creator Matt Tarses (“Scrubs”) clearly admires.
So why does “Mad Love” fall flat? The primary reason is because, unlike other sitcoms of the genre, there’s no reason to root for or even like these characters. Many of the jokes are crude and bland. The fairy tale gimmick is pointless and adds nothing to the episode. Finally, the episode doesn’t hold together on a linear level. One minute they’re in a bar, the next they’re at the apartment of the boss of Kate’s friend Connie (Judy Greer, “27 Dresses”) and then they’re in Ben’s office. All this racing around leaves little room for character development. In short, by the episode’s end, exactly who these people are has yet to be determined.
CBS must have been desperate for a midseason replacement. It seems like all they did was take a successful idea (i.e. young lawyer looking for beautiful girl, womanizing best friend, etc.) and tell us the ending from the outset: The boy gets the girl. This gives us viewers absolutely zero incentive to continue watching.