RIP Selfie: Are TV Romcoms An Endangered Species?

This post is a featured editor’s pick on BlogHer!

I’ve felt a burning desire to re-watch The Office, or at least its second season, lately. I’ll give you two guesses why.

If you guessed Jim and/or Pam, you’re absolutely right.

I love comedy, and I love romance. I can’t always say I love sitcoms, because they vary, and the term “sitcom” is developing a canned laughter/unrealistic situations/ridiculous misunderstandings kind of stigma. But I dearly love to laugh (a family trait, I think), and it’s good to have a half-hour long program that I can zip through when I want a break but don’t have time for an hour-long show.

Problem is, sitcoms, especially romantic ones, seem to be going the way of the dinosaur. Fewer new ones are introduced each season, and they tend to be the first to get canceled. That’s certainly true of this 2014 fall season. The networks (NBC, ABC, CBS, Fox, and the CW) introduced 14 new dramas (15, if you include Fox’s reality show Utopia), and only nine new comedies. They’ve already canceled four of those comedies, while Utopia is the only hour-long program to get the ax.

Romantic sitcoms, like romantic movies, are in even bigger trouble than general comedies. There were at least four new sitcoms attempting to fill the romcom void, and all but one of them is now canceled. ABC introduced Selfie and Manhattan Love Story on Tuesday nights, while NBC put its hopes in A to Z, starring Ben Feldman and Cristin Milioti, and Marry Me, with Ken Marino and Casey Wilson.

The winner of the dubious honor of the fall season’s first cancellation goes to Manhattan Love Story—and deservedly so. The terrible show relied solely on the tiredest clichés and perpetuating the oldest, stupidest stereotypes for its humor. It’s dreadful, and though its second and third episodes got marginally better (perhaps because there was no where to go but up?), it’s still not worth continuing to produce. Good riddance.

Selfie got a lot of backlash on social media when it aired, perhaps for its treatment of social media, though I don’t fully understand why. It officially got the ax just last week, and I, for one, am heartbroken. Created by Emily Kapnek of Suburgatory, it’s a kooky updated version of Pygmalion (or My Fair Lady) with John Cho as Henry Higgins (or Higgs) and Doctor Who’s Karen Gillan as Eliza Doolittle (or Dooley).

It’s not a perfect show, by any means, but it’s cute and funny. The fun leads have a great chemistry and play off each other well, the surrounding players are slowly developing into full characters, and the premise gets far enough away from the Pygmalion ideal that Henry needs Eliza’s help as much as she needs his (My Fair Lady is definitely not one of my favorite musicals). While it’s at times ridiculously silly, it also has some very sweet, touching moments. I’m sad to see it go.

A to Z has an interesting premise: a narrator (Katey Sagal) tells us exactly what will happen, that the two characters will date for eight months (the length of the season, presumably), and that we’ll see certain events or situations in their dating life. The alphabet construction is a little contrived, most grievously in the name of Milioti’s character, Zelda (ick. Is she an old woman, or a video game?). The pilot isn’t terrible and the leads are sweet together, but following episodes get a little more into clichéd, stereotype territory. A to Z, along with its time slot companion Bad Judge, were the second and third cancellations this season. I’m not exactly sad to see A to Z go, especially for its highly competitive Thursday night time slot, a very difficult place for a new show to survive.

NBC’s Marry Me is the only romcom hit, though critics seem to like it more than audiences. It received a lot of buzz before it aired—Entertainment Weekly called it out as one of the shows to watch this season—but its ratings aren’t really holding up. It did start later in the season and hasn’t aired as many episodes yet, so it remains to be seen whether it’ll survive the chopping block.

I wanted to like Marry Me because I like both of the actors (Marino and Wilson), but I didn’t. In fact, I hated the pilot. It’s definitely in the school of extremely embarrassing, awkward humor that has been so popular in recent years. Yes, I know The Office falls in that category too, but it’s not the reason I watch the show. In fact, I often hate Michael Scott (Steve Carell), who can be such a jerk. As I said before, I love The Office because of Jim and Pam.

Marry Me starts with an embarrassing situation that just gets worse: when Wilson’s Annie assumes that Marino’s Jake is not going to propose to her, she starts bad mouthing his family and friends—only to find that they’re there, hiding out for a surprise engagement party. Gee, making myself look like a mean-spirited, stupid idiot in front of my future in-laws is so funny. Apparently others think so, but I don’t.

I haven’t seen any more of Marry Me than the pilot, though I read the episode descriptions, and I don’t think I’m missing much. The pilot set up the type of humor to be found on the show, and it’s not for me.

Bad Judge stars Kate Walsh (Grey’s Anatomy, Private Practice), as the titular judge, who really isn’t that bad. There’s nothing particularly romantic about it (yet), but I enjoy it, finding Walsh a dynamic, entertaining lead, who has fun chemistry and amusing interactions with her friend and coworker Tedward (Tone Bell). It’s not an amazing show, certainly, but it’s fast-paced and funny, and I like Walsh. I’m sorry to see it go too . . . but I’ll survive.

The remaining new network comedies this season are black-ish and Cristela (both ABC), Mulaney (Fox), and The McCarthys (CBS). Mulaney is pretty terrible, which is unfortunate because John Mulaney’s standup material is hysterically funny (see New in Town), but some of that material is repeated in his sitcom, and Mulaney is awkward when trying to play a character. Black-ish ratings are very strong but I haven’t seen it, nor have I seen The McCarthys, which only premiered two weeks ago. I eventually got around to seeing the pilot of Cristela and it pleasantly surprised me. Star Cristela Alonzo is cute and very entertaining, and I look forward to seeing more episodes, though I didn’t find the show on demand.

So the season’s clear winner, to me, is already canceled. Selfie will run its course and then be gone for good, and we’ll see what will crop up in its place. Considering the way the fall season’s sitcom scorecard is looking, I may have to go back to reruns of The Office for my romcom cravings.

6 thoughts on “RIP Selfie: Are TV Romcoms An Endangered Species?

  1. Well, well. I was very surprised – pleasantly – to read this. I know you love sitcoms and I feel they should all burn in effigy, but this was an honest appraisal. I myself have only ever submitted to two sitcoms and the first one took on more strong subjects for its time than most and the second… well… I just could not keep up with it. I did try Bad Judge but had to give up – it had a few too many dopey moments for me, as much as I might have liked it.

    I did enjoy Suburgatory its first two seasons but tired quickly of the idiot with the robot voice, zero I.Q. and terrible shoes and make up. I can’t even recall her name. The main character, Tessa, was wonderful, but I knew far too many self-absorbed (yes, to THAT degree) people in my high school days and found I hadn’t the taste to go through it again. Some things carry lasting affects.

    My reasoning for hating The Office is not what you might think. Well, not JUST what you might think. I spent a lifetime doing Human Resources, the only job I ever loved, completely gave of myself to do. That and being a volunteer EMT, one of my best efforts as well. To have this idiot’s show come and do more harm than good to my life’s work was more than I could bear. The sad and hideous fact is that watching the telly can have a fairly lasting impact and damage more than it helps. This show was exactly that: people immediately became wary of seeing their HR person. I was that person. You have no idea how much this hurt all of my efforts. Now, granted, some companies do have the worst sorts of people in their HR departments, but the bulk of us are NOT like that. And we bust our butts to be advocates for our employees, so often to no avail (more due to the company’s mentality of “eve money at all costs” than us). we certainly did not need help from that source. Does that at least give some insight to why I felt so bitter about this particular show? I know I don’t always give the whole story, but here it is.

    The primary sitcom that I ever watched every single episode was M*A*S*H. That is it. The rest have exactly what you described: the tired laugh-track, the poor jokes, shows to appeal to the lowest common denominator. I’m sorry for that, you know I don’t mean you or Luis, but let’s be honest. The majority of viewers these days are the least educated and it is for them these shows are aired.

    • Thanks for commenting, Ash, but I don’t think it’s fair to lump all sitcoms together under that definition. They’re not all bad. There are definitely some awful ones, but there are also some really smart ones. And I know that’s why you feel that way about The Office, but I don’t think that most people take from the show that HR people are bad no matter what. Michael Scott (the lead character) is often a big jerk to everyone, but especially the HR rep, but most of the other characters know that he’s a jerk and that the HR guy is really nice and very helpful.

  2. […] about. I also feel a weird sense of loyalty for shows—even shows I don’t really care for. Take Manhattan Love Story for example, the new ABC sitcom with the dubious honor of being the first cancelation of the fall. […]

  3. […] about. I also feel a weird sense of loyalty for shows—even shows I don’t really care for. Take Manhattan Love Story for example, the new ABC sitcom with the dubious honor of being the first cancelation of the fall. […]

  4. […] Do the dancers feel pressure to build a romance where there isn’t one? The producers certainly hint at relationships, and encourage the dancers to find those moments where they can. Judge Julianne Hough said last night that she worked with Janel and Val on their samba on arms, turns, and “a lot more than just passion,” but the package only focused on their connection. I think by now many people know that there’s not that much “reality” in reality television, yet people still assume that something is going on. The audience is more than happy to latch on to this showmance, egging the dancers on to build a kiss into their choreography or take on romantic roles (like Romeo and Juliet), and the gossip mags are more than happy to perpetuate it too. Are we just shippers, hopeful to find those romantic relationships where we can, especially when they’re so few and far between on television? […]

  5. […] get any better, to know what happened to the characters, and to see whether it could possibly slate my thirst for romantic comedies on television (spoiler: it didn’t). I also wanted to feel like I gave it a fair […]

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