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So you've seen all of the new shows this fall - but what about the ones that didn't make the cut? For the next 30 days we're going to take a "first look" at a collection of 30 pilots that didn't land on the 2009-10 season schedule. Are there any gems that got passed over or are they all deservedly locked in the networks' vaults? Stay tuned.
STATE OF ROMANCE (NBC)
(written by Barbara Wallace & Tom Wolfe; directed by Peter Sollett; TRT: 23:07)
What is it? A single-camera comedy about dating in Chicago.
Who was behind it?: Barbara Wallace and Tom Wolfe, co-creators of the short-lived Jim Gaffigan vehicle "Welcome to New York." Peter Sollett ("Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist") directed the half-hour, which was filmed on location in the Windy City.
The plot in a nutshell: Emily ("'Til Death's" Lindsey Broad) and Mike ("Reba's" Steve Howey) do not meet cute. As passengers waiting for the same flight at O'Hare airport, she happens to overhear him mentioning "she's like a six and a half, maybe a mercy seven" on his phone. And on the actual flight, she's not impressed by his look-at-me-aren't-I-smart-and/or-charming reading choice ("The Omnivore's Dilemma"), job (wine distributor) or advances (he's not the Mike Adamle, famed sportscaster). He likewise turns out to be less than enthused after learning that not only is she also a wine distributor, but she just stole his latest prospect in Green Bay. On the flip side, Ed ("The League's" Stephen Rannazzisi) and Regina (newcomer Grace Rex) do meet cute. He uncharacteristically comes to her aid after she loses a parking spot to an angry Korean War veteran after which she anoints him her hero. They're both there to pick up their respective best friends... wait for it... Mike and Emily.
Not surprisingly, after Ed and Regina begin their courtship, Mike and Emily resume annoying each other ("Are you one of those guys who went to a Big 10 school and smoked giant cigars while you played golf even though you're like 25?" she asks him. "Just extrapolating from the shirt."). Ed and Regina however have their own problems - he's actually engaged (for the fourth time, none of which he's followed through with) while she can barely take care of herself thanks to spending her childhood as a competitive ice skater (don't ask). Also thrown into the mix are Regina's event planner sister Alice (Zoe Lister Jones) who's developed a habit of sleeping with guys Emily likes ("Excuse me," she clarifies. "Accidentally making love to men you don't yet realize you are attracted to, big difference.") and their slacker friend Andrew ("MADtv's" Bobby Lee), who spends his days making web videos (WildAsianBush.com: "It's just me playing the ex-president running a bubble T stand at a mall. 250 hits bro, kids love it."). Collectively they roll their eyes at Ed/Regina's burgeoning romance and Mike/Emily's hate-slowly-turning-into-love dance. Throw in a closing sequence set to Cake's "Short Skirt/Long Jacket" and really that's it.
What works: As a Chicagoan-turned-Angelino, I'm definitely predisposed to love any show set - let alone filmed in - Chicago. Unfortunately...
What doesn't: ...there's not much to love here. First and foremost, "Romance" subscribes to my least favorite television convention, the "just happens." Mike just happens to make an ass of himself in front of Emily who just happens to wind up sitting next to him on the plane who just happens to not only share his profession but be on her way to the same potential client who just happens to be best friends with the girl who just happens to meet Mike's best friend while they both just happen to be picking them up from the aforementioned trip at the airport. That's the piece de resistance of coincidence daisy chains. Even worse, there's no chemistry to mask such romantic comedy shenanigans as Mike and Emily never quite sell the love part of the love/hate equation.
Only in the closing sequence, in which Mike fires back at her with his own "are you one of those" scenarios ("girls that rides an old bike [with] coaster brakes, was a vegetarian but now eats everything but veal... I'm extrapolating from the Chucks"), is there any sense he likes her beyond the I-guess-he-has-to-feel-something because the script requires him to. That's not to say the show itself doesn't have its amusing parts - Ed and Regina's schmoopy-esque relationship has its moments, for instance he shows up with a giant teddy bear to win her back because "it's what people throw on the ice to show a skater their love," causing Mike to deadpan, "Those are little girls who throw that stuff." - but it's not enough to create consistent laughs or a believable set of characters and situations. At the end of the day too much of the show's mechanics are of the only-on-TV/movies variety, undercutting any sense of authenticity to the proceedings. I'm all for trying to bring a fresh angle to the romantic comedy genre...
The bottom line: ...but this isn't it.