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‘A to Z’ more familiar than fresh

| Sunday, September 28, 2014

web_a to zSara Shoemake
When advertisements for the upcoming NBC series “A to Z” started to become ubiquitous on all forms of social media, I was, to the credit of the show’s marketing team, intrigued. The new single-camera sitcom stars Ben Feldman (“Mad Men”) and Cristin Milioti (“How I Met Your Mother”), two actors I’ve always cheered for, so I had high hopes for the show. Though the series is scheduled to formally premiere Thursday , the show’s pilot debuted online through NBC in mid-August, giving a glimpse at the new romantic-comedy series.

“A to Z” centers around Andrew (Feldman), a hopeless romantic working for an online dating service (think Tinder more than eHarmony) and Zelda (Milioti), a tough, rational lawyer. The two young professionals meet when Zelda visits Andrew’s (get it, “A to Z?”) workplace to clear up a glitch in her online dating profile. The two hit it off, and a voiceover explains that the show will follow the entire length of Andrew and Zelda’s relationship, from “A to Z,” with each episode named after a letter in the alphabet. The pilot is appropriately titled “A is for Acquaintences,” and, presumably, the finale will be “Z”-related and feature their impending breakup.

While the show’s concept is at least a little exciting, one can’t help but have “How I Met Your Mother,” Milioti’s last show, come to mind. Aside from the obvious casting choice, both shows start with an ending drilled in at the pilot, and both stories are told in voiceover narration. It isn’t like the producers of “A to Z” are unaware of this, either: the new series’ advertisements on social media nodded to Milioti’s old show, refashioning the “Kids” line from “HIMYM.” While the joke seemed clever during the new series’ first advertising efforts, it just feels too easy after seeing the pilot and realizing “A to Z” has such a similar format to the just-ended “How I Met Your Mother.”

It isn’t just “How I Met Your Mother” déjà vu with “A to Z.” The show is also reminiscent of the ill-fated ABC sitcom “Mixology,” which featured a narrator explicitly laying out the groundwork of the show: a whole season followed 10 characters at a bar over the course of one night. There’s also the dim, borderline-sexist best friend and a romantic man paired with a tough-as-nails woman in “A to Z,” also seen in the short-lived ABC series.

It’s certain the problem with “A to Z” is that the show feels like it’s been done before. It’s “How I Met Your Mother” with a seemingly sad ending. It’s the sugar-coated sitcom grandchild of “Annie Hall,” child of “500 Days of Summer,” with its examination of a failed relationship. The pilot tries and fails to seem fresh — quirky characters drop predictably “edgy” lines about Instagram, “hipsters” and dating in the social media age. Even the choice of narrator, Katey Sagal, makes the show seem all too familiar right at its start.

The premise and many of the characters in “A to Z” may be a bit trite, but the pilot still showed promise in a good bulk of its writing. A joke about Andrew’s childhood and “Back to the Future 2,” for example, was expertly executed and shows how smart “A to Z” could be. And while the show isn’t subtle in the least about being a rom-com series in the digital age, some scenes gave a surprisingly spot-on look at how relationships develop with the help (or hindrance) of social media.

The thing that gives “A to Z” the most potential, however, is the cast that drew me to the show in the first place. Milioti and Feldman are charming and charismatic, and the two leads carry the pilot despite the show’s missteps. Milioti especially takes the prize for taking the cliché role of the cold, calculated business-woman and crafting it into a captivating and lovable character.

With two talented leads and bursts of clever writing, the pilot for “A to Z” may have been occasionally frustrating but still left me with hope that the show can shape up into one worth watching.

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About Allie Tollaksen

Scene Editor. Senior studying Psychology and dabbling in everything else.

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