[09/19/08 - 06:40 PM]
The Futon's First Look: "Cupid" (ABC)
By Brian Ford Sullivan (TFC)

Please note: As a courtesy, please do not reproduce these comments to newsgroups, forums or other online places. Links only please.

(written by Rob Thomas; directed by Bharat Nalluri; TRT: 43:12)

The network's description: "(from ABC's press release, August 2008) Like any big city, New York has its share of characters. But the newest one isn't like the rest. For starters, his goal in life is to help people fall in love, which isn't such a bad thing. But he says he must create 100 happily-ever-afters in order to return to his home�Mount Olympus. Because he's Cupid, the ancient Roman god of love. Duh. He claims being punished by the other Gods for the modern world's sorry state of love, and was sent to Earth without his famed bow and arrow, to rediscover what really makes love work. As fate would have it, Cupid, sometimes known as Trevor Hale, is under the care of famous psychologist and self-help author Dr. Claire Allen. Even though Claire disagrees with Trevor's methods, she can't argue with the sentiment, since she too is dedicated to helping lonely hearts find their soul mates. But these two experts in love couldn't be more different: he believes love blooms fast and carnal and passionate, while she thinks it grows slowly, moderately and sensibly. While he busies himself making matches, she endeavors to figure out who Trevor really is. Is he a man who's losing his mind after the loss of his one true love? Is he really crazy? Or (gulp) is he really Cupid? From writer-creator Rob Thomas (Veronica Mars) comes a re-imagining of his 1998 cult favorite series of the same name. Bobby Cannavale stars in this romantic-comedy procedural that will match up a new loving couple each week, though romance may not always bloom quite where we expect it to. This warm, witty series is a charming reminder that even though true love may be madness� it's the only thing keeping us sane."

What did they leave out? Some details have changed from the original script, which we looked at back in July - namely it's been moved from Los Angeles to New York City. Also of note: the leads are now named Trevor Pierce and Claire McCrae, a shift from Trevor Hale and Claire Allen of the original incarnation. Other details like Claire hiring a P.I. to find out who Trevor really is and her father having a much more tragic form of mental illness have been dropped (although they presumably could resurface in later episodes). Don't worry though - Trevor's behind-the-back dart bull's-eye and the pool hall counter made the cut.

The plot in a nutshell: Again, you can check out our original look at the script for the blow-by-blow, but here's the highlights. Meet Cupid (Bobby Cannavale, sporting a subtle fauxhawk). He's just been arrested on New Year's Eve for helping Dave (Sean Maguire) change the light bulbs on the ball drop's "Happy New Year!" sign in Times Square to read "Holly I'm Here!" You see, Cupid is on a mission - a fact he recounts to Dr. Claire McCrae (Sarah Paulson) after she's assigned his case - bring 100 couples together so he can return to Olympus. It seems the gods have deemed that he needs a refresher course on love and have cast him out to relearn his craft. Claire is not surprisingly skeptical of Cupid's claims, both as a psychologist and a best-selling author on the subject. Her philosophy of love revolves around trust, honesty and being strategic in your romantic exploits. Cupid's conversely is all lust, passion and being bold. And unfortunately for her, their debate isn't going to end anytime soon - the review board has entrusted Cupid, or rather Trevor Pierce he claims at the last minute when asked for a name, into Claire's care. Trevor's also got bigger fish to fry - namely resuming his quest to help Dave, an Irish musician who came to New York to find Holly, whom he only met once but is convinced is the girl of his dreams. Lucky for him, Claire's weekly dating seminar (which Trevor's required to attend) has provided the perfect vehicle - Madeline (Marguerite Moreau), a jaded New York Post reporter who's always on the lookout for the next human interest piece. Trevor suggests that Dave and Madeline get together to tell Dave's story and hopefully this Holly girl will read about it. But just when things look like they're going to plan - Trevor and Claire realize that Dave and Madeline have some chemistry of their own. Their war of philosophies is just beginning.

What works: The original Jeremy Piven/Paula Marshall "Cupid" is one of my all-time favorite shows so trust me when I say - despite some initial skepticism - the new "Cupid" may just live up to the original. The best analogy I can give is if the original "Cupid" is the original "Friday Night Lights" film, the new "Cupid" is the "Friday Night Lights" television series. Each is true to the same themes and ideas in spirit, but the execution is somewhat different. Cannavale and Paulson aren't quite the bantery flirts that Piven and Marshall were, there's more of an undercurrent of sadness to them - each thinks the other is nursing a broken heart buried years of scars that's made them who they are. After all, this new "Cupid" is a slightly more serious show (even with Trevor bringing the expected funny). Cannavale's Trevor is less manic than Piven's, he's more like an overgrown kid that's just learned that there isn't (spoiler alert!) a Tooth Fairy. Learning that love really isn't as simple as shooting an arrow is almost demoralizing to this Trevor. On the other end, Paulson's Claire isn't as certain as Marshall's - there's a great scene where she starts to say one of her trademark lines, then catches herself after realizing how cold what she's about to say is.

In this "Cupid," both sides have their doubts, which makes their chess match over Dave and Madeline even more interesting. As expected, Trevor thinks Dave should hold out for this Holly figure, the girl that he crossed an ocean to find, while Claire thinks he should go with Madeline, the girl that's right in front of him. But when it's Madeline who follows Trevor's "go bold" philosophy, she's the one who gets burned, giving Trevor a gut check in the process. But Claire's philosophy doesn't quite work out either as - for reasons I won't spoil here - Madeline will literally need to do something bold to ultimately give her and Dave a chance. It's that central thesis that makes the show fundamentally intoxicating - literally 42 minutes of debate about how to handle issues of the heart, only to have fate or luck or something else out of our control force our hand. Trevor's mantra is that there's nothing that mariachi karaoke duets night (with half-priced margaritas) at Tres Equis won't solve while Claire professes we take stock of every moment and make judgments at each possible turn. We all know life and love don't subscribe to either philosophy entirely, it's always somewhere in between. To have a television series devoted to that debate - with characters embodying each argument - how cool is that? And finally, while obviously Cannavale and Paulson are quite fun, a special kudos to Maguire and Moreau as the "couple of the week" - they really sell all of the above and I dare you not to get a little misty in the closing moments.

What doesn't: Rick Gomez's Felix and Camille Guaty's Lita, the owners of Tres Equis (the bar where Trevor works/lives), unfortunately play a very distant second fiddle to Trevor and Claire. Obviously this is just the pilot, but we're really not given much of a sense of who these characters are other than Felix has a reputation for taking in strays (like dogs and... well, Trevor) and Lita isn't keen on this Trevor guy who's taking advantage of her brother. Other than that...

The bottom line: ...consider me hooked.

  [september 2008]  


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