Comedy ‘A to Z’ walks line between charm, cheesiness

Cristin Milioti of "How I Met Your Mother" fame plays romance-weary dream girl, Zelda. Powerhouse Theater via Flickr Creative Commons

“Andrew and Zelda will date for eight months, three weeks, five days and one hour. This television program is the comprehensive account of their life,” new NBC show “A to Z” boldly opens. Will they get married? Break up? Get engaged? With a premise reminiscent of “How I Met Your Mother” (2005 – 2014), “A to Z” resides on the thin line between cheesy, Nicholas-Sparks-style romance and cute love story with its innovative narrative twist.

Andrew (Ben Feldman) is a sports fan and a “guy’s guy” who works for Wallflower, a fictitious online dating company, while Zelda (Cristin Milioti) is a pedicure-obsessed “girly girl” and an ambitious lawyer. When Zelda visits the Wallflower offices to shut down her dating account, she bumps into Andrew and a fairly typical boy-meets-girl scene ensues. Andrew is bumbling yet endearing as he awkwardly flirts with Zelda; for her part, Zelda simply rolls her eyes and brushes him off. 

The two end up going out for a drink, and while at the bar, a song prompts them to realize that they were both at the same concert years before. In a strange twist, Andrew vividly remembers seeing a girl at the concert to whom he felt instantly and intensely drawn. He suggests that this girl was Zelda, crazily ranting about how destiny brought them together again, and — understandably — Zelda leaves the bar completely overwhelmed.

Andrew is determined to prove that Zelda was the girl he saw that night, and after going to great lengths — including stalking her on the internet with his tech-savvy friends, a clever way for the show to poke fun at the lack of internet privacy in a Facebook and Instagram world — she eventually admits that she was the girl he saw, and they kiss.

In popular culture, women are often portrayed as romance-crazed characters, and although “the lovesick puppy” is still a stock figure, it’s refreshing to see a man starstruck: Andrew is a hopeless romantic, while Zelda is the skeptical one. Still, while “A to Z” does seem a bit different from mainstream television, it is strikingly similar to Marc Webb’s film “500 Days of Summer” (2009). In fact, the entire show draws a myriad of comparisons, boasting a highly romantic male lead, a girl who “doesn’t believe in love,” an unusual narrative structure and a play on the theme of destiny.

Thankfully, not everything’s the same. Big picture components of “A to Z” feel familiar, but the details and execution do not. “500 Days of Summer” was wildly successful because of its quirky style and genuinely believable feel. “A to Z,” on the other hand, starts out on a very different note when a robotic, omniscient voice announces the premise of the show, continuing to make occasional reappearances while a DVD-like start screen bookends the episode. Perhaps these details are subtle tips to audiences that this will be a “futuristic” show.

The rest of “A to Z,”  however, plays as a light romantic comedy. This disconnect is confusing, and while either vibe has the potential to succeed, they seem carelessly mashed together. Additionally, despite its amusing premise, the show itself is not exactly revolutionary; the plot points are fairly predictable and the characters simplistic.

Additionally, “A to Z” is focused on a single romance. For now it sustains the show, but later, when the couple inevitably finds themselves comfortably together, the series runs the risk of becoming either stagnantly boring or — worse — plagued with underdeveloped and random plot twists.

Still, both Andrew and Zelda are hopelessly adorable, with Zelda’s wide eyes and mouse-like features and Andrew’s hopeless romantic spirit. The two have strong, inexplicable chemistry, and although both are fairly one-dimensional, it’s hard not to smile at their interactions. Their star-crossed meeting after briefly connecting years before combined with their raw chemistry preys on the “Titanic”-loving (1997) romantic in all of us.

Undoubtedly, “A to Z” has its charming moments — like a child singing the ABCs, it can be rather adorable. Sometimes, however, a high-pitched kindergartner’s voice belting out a tune everyone has heard before becomes annoying after a few rounds. Throughout the course of the upcoming first season, “A to Z” may become that squeaky voice, but it’s too soon to judge its ultimate fate.


Summary

Undoubtedly, “A to Z” has its charming moments -- like a child singing the ABCs, it can be rather adorable. But, sometimes a high-pitched kindergartner’s voice belting out a tune everyone has heard before becomes annoying after a few rounds.

2.5 stars
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