Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Pilot Review: Manhattan Love Story

Manhattan Love Story (Tuesdays at 8:30 on ABC)

ABC has the two smartest sitcoms of the season in Black-ish and Selfie. They have gone above and beyond the typical comedy setups of "a bunch of friends looking for love" or "dysfunctional family" and crossed over into social commentary and satire. Why, then, is ABC airing Manhattan Love Story, the worst kind of trite, oversimplified, offensively dumb show: the gender roles comedy? They are clearly capable of doing much better, of providing viewers with thoughtful humor, but you would never guess it after subjecting yourself to just a few minutes of Love Story.

The show follows the budding relationship of Dana (Analeigh Tipton, a third place finisher on America's Next Top Model) and Peter (Greek's Jake McDorman). It's an opposites attract situation: Dana is pursuing her dreams of being an editor in New York, Peter is an exhausting manchild. They go on a date, which is set up by Dana's sorority sister Amy (Jade Catta-Preta), whose husband (Nicolas Wright) is Peter's brother. The date is a mess, partially because the two have nothing in common and partially because the audience constantly hears their internal thoughts and ohmygod these two never shut up.

Jeff Lowell (who has written a host of miserable projects in the past, including scripts for the most recent season of Two and a Half Men and the film screenplays for Hotel for Dogs and John Tucker Must Die) has created one of the most unlikeable characters of the fall season in Peter. He's a misogynistic pig who thinks about nothing but sex. The opening scene of the pilot, in fact, is Peter walking down a street and musing internally on which women he'd have sex with (all of them, obviously). When David gives Peter Dana's name, he looks her up on social media and assumes she's "the ugly one" in her profile picture. The entire time he's on his date with Dana, he's thinking about her body, or sports, or watering his ficus, or anything but the fact that she's talking to him. When he brings Dana flowers and apologizes for "being insensitive," his inner monologue says, "I did nothing wrong." That's gross. Not that Dana is much better; our first introduction to her is an extended inner monologue about how much she loves purses. She's naive and insecure, playing into every stereotype of how pigheaded men see women.

That's what Manhattan Love Story is really all about: stereotypes. But it doesn't flip them or redefine them or use them as a jumping off point for smarter jokes, like Black-ish. No, Love Story takes the most unflattering, damaging stereotypes of what it means to be a man (boorish, abrupt, sex-obsessed, etc) and what it means to be a woman (overly emotional, flighty, less intelligent than men, etc) and simply puts them on display with the claim that this is what each gender really thinks about. It's reductive and, worst of all, not funny. These are the kinds of jokes that get groans at open mic nights at cheap comedy clubs. Peter's jokes basically amount to, "Boobs! Am I right?!" So I have to wonder, why would Dana give an oaf like Peter a second chance? Speaking of, the whole conceit of Love Story going beyond one episode is that the pair decides they didn't give each other a fair shot, so they want to get together again... which is stupid, because the audience has heard through these interminable inner voices how wrong they are for each other. It's a mess of a script that can't be saved by Tipton's sweet, earnest performance (and there's nothing Dorman can do to make Peter not look like a dick). Even the moments when it's not offensively stupid, Manhattan Love Story is mediocre at best... ironic considering a major point in the pilot is how America has come to celebrate mediocrity. It tries to be romantic, but it's just cliched, like Peter taking Dana on a date to the Statue of Liberty. The show is trying desperately to be like a Woody Allen film, but it all it is is annoying.

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