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Welcome once again to our annual "first look" at the broadcast networks' offerings for the 2010-2011 season. Each day we'll walk you through one of the new series set to premiere next season (or one that didn't make the cut) and go over our initial impressions after viewing the pilot. Keep in mind that a lot can change from what's being screened right now - recasting, reshooting, etc. - but we still want to give you a heads up on what you should (and shouldn't) keep on your radar in the coming months. So enough of our rambling, on with the show!
[IMPORTANT NOTE: The following is based on the original sales presentation which was screened to us privately or supplied by a third party NOT an informational, not-for-review screener provided by the network in question.]
LOVE BITES (NBC)
(written by Cindy Chupack; directed by Marc Buckland; TRT: 43:52)
The network's description: "From Emmy Award-winning writer-producer Cindy Chupack ("Sex and the City"), "Love Bites" is an hour-long romantic comedy anthology series featuring three loosely connected, modern stories of love, sex, marriage and dating. Each episode contains multiple vignettes, all illuminating the theme of love with an edgy, irreverent spin. Becki Newton ("Ugly Betty") stars as Annie and Jordana Spiro ("My Boys") stars as Frannie, the last two single girls standing after all of their friends get married. Annie is an infectiously bubbly optimist and Frannie is an always-a-bridesmaid realist. Their story will anchor the series, while other romantically-challenged characters will come and go each week. The pilot's guest cast includes Jennifer Love Hewitt ("Ghost Whisperer"), Greg Grunberg ("Heroes"), Craig Robinson ("The Office"), Jason Lewis ("Sex and the City"), Lindsay Price ("Lipstick Jungle"), Larry Wilmore ("The Daily Show"), Charlyne Yi ("Knocked Up"), Pamela Adlon ("Californication"), Stacy Galina ("Hidden Hills"), Brian Hallisay ("Privileged"), Kyle Howard ("My Boys") and Steve Howey ("Bride Wars").
"Love Bites" is a production of Universal Media Studios and Working Title Television, which is a new division of Working Title Films (the U.K. production company behind box office hits including "Love Actually," "Bridget Jones's Diary" and "Four Weddings and a Funeral"). Chupack is creator, executive producer and writer. Emmy Award-winning producer-director Marc Buckland ("My Name Is Earl") also is executive producer and directs the pilot. Eric Fellner, Tim Bevan and Shelley McCrory from Working Title Television are executive producers. "Love Bites" is Working Title Television's first U.S. commission."
What did they leave out? Newton, Spiro and Grunberg have all been named series regulars.
The plot in a nutshell: In "First Time," Virginians Annie (Becki Newton) and Frannie (Jordana Spiro) are the remaining singles in their group of friends. So to shake things up Frannie agrees to start going by Fran (their names being so similar and all), while Annie tables her usual dealbreaker for guys - telling them she's a virgin. But when Annie starts to hit it off with a cute and refreshingly nice boy, Jordan (Brian Hallisay), Fran usurps Annie's usual shtick about being a virgin to impress him. It does and Fran finds herself both puzzled and intrigued by the new light she's viewed in. That is, of course, until her lie blows up in her face.
In "First to Go," San Francisco accountant Carter (Kyle Howard) is horrified by the news his boss (Larry Wilmore) is downsizing his entire department. Even worse, he returns home to find his fiance Liz (Lindsay Price) in bed with... the Maserati of vibrators. And if that wasn't it enough, said instrument has made her truly orgasm for the first time in her life. Disheartened, Carter can't bring himself to tell her about losing his job so he gives himself a new one: be the best lover he can be.
And in "First on the List," best friends Judd (Greg Grunberg) and Bowman (Craig Robinson) are on their way to a pal's bachelor party. And while being dropped off at LAX by his wife (Pamela Adlon), Judd is shocked to spot his teenage crush Jennifer Love Hewitt (as herself) likewise arriving at the airport. You see, Hewitt is the one and only member of Judd's "Celebrity Exemption List," the pre-approved list of famous people that he and his wife, should the circumstances arise, are allowed to sleep with. Improbably they wind up on the same flight where Judd takes it upon himself to make a move.
What works: By definition, anthologies are tough sells due to the fact that there's no week to week relationships to build on as the slate is wiped clean after each episode. And while "Love Bites" is skirting this issue a little (see the aforementioned note), what they're ultimate selling then is a brand of storytelling, in this case romantic fables about the matters of the heart.
In each of the three stories, each of our hero/heroines is on a quest that ends in their comeuppance/just rewards with only thin connective tissue between them (for instance, two of the above guys are later revealed to be brothers) and a final coda to tie a bow on all of the tales. And to its credit, all are harmless fun, with each progressively better than the one prior. It makes for a cute exercise...
What doesn't: ...but it's one that I can't imagine rushing to watch each week. To give you an analogy, "Love Bites" is like a greeting card. The right message can make you laugh or smile but the act in of itself is generally a frivolous activity - you probably won't remember what it said the next day as it goes in one ear and out the other. That's more or less how I feel about this show: at best it's a fun albeit forgettable distraction, at worst it's a disposable, saccharine hour of television.
I'm sure that range will be acceptable for some viewers (although history has not been kind to this genre), however I'm of the school that TV series have to elicit a raw, uncensored feeling from me - either comedic or dramatic - to come back. "Love Bites" does the exact opposite as it seems more than content to rest on its billowy laurels of endless needle drops (walking across the office? time to crank up Phoenix's "1901!"), past-its-prime pop culture fascinations (celebrity exemption lists) and storybook mechanizations (that Fran gets what's coming to her in the end!). Again not bad...
The bottom line: ...just not great.