Manhattan Love Story, Season 1, Episode 1, “Pilot”
September 30, 2014, 8:30 p.m. (EST), ABC
Men like boobs, women like purses. This is basically what the drowning-in-voice-over pilot of Manhattan Love Story comes up with in terms of gender insight. The show’s structure seems to involve a look into the inner thoughts of a man and a woman who are falling in love, but little of what they have to say (think?) actually sounds like human thought, and what observations the show is making about how we date now feel painfully cliché and incredibly detached from reality.
Analeigh Tipton and Jake McDorman star as the central couple, she a naïve new arrival in New York City (which I was surprised to find this pilot didn’t call The Big Apple, for how divorced from real New York living it felt), he a cynical long time resident. The show, from it’s title through the way it proceeds, fancies itself a romantic comedy, but there is one thing a romantic comedy needs to be worthwhile: likable lead characters.
I have loved Tipton elsewhere (she blew me away in Damsels in Distress and stole plenty of scenes in Crazy Stupid Love), and she is an immensely likable actress, but her Dana is such a flat characterization she barely counts as a twist on the awkward, clumsy romantic lead in any number of rom coms. McDorman’s Peter, on the other hand, mostly seems like an asshole not worth redeeming, whose soul kind act arrives when the pilot needs him to do something not awful so there is still a show next week. These two could very well become more fully formed characters, but right now, they aren’t even cardboard cutouts. They are an artist’s rendering of a cardboard cut out, with “rom com” scrawled across it in red crayon.
When I write about a pilot, I almost always include a large number of caveats. Very few shows are at their best in their first episodes, and pilots are incredibly hard to do well. A show needs to introduce its characters and its world, needs to sell audiences on what they will get every week if they come back, and needs to tell enough of a story to be satisfying as an individual episode. Also, sitcom pilots have the added burden of being funny. Manhattan Love Story fails at literally every one of these. The characters are sketches reduced to wisps, the world doesn’t feel like New York, or anywhere other than “Sitcom City, USA or maybe Canada,” and the idea of coming back to the constant cacophony of narration with nothing to say is far from tempting. “Pilot” doesn’t tell an interesting story so much as hint that one you’ve seen a million times before might be coming down the pipeline. And it isn’t, even at it’s best, remotely funny.
In short, this pilot is pretty dire. But that doesn’t necessarily mean it can’t be salvaged and become a show worth watching. Almost everything I saw here would need to change for me to be interested in seeing this show again. But it might. Tipton is an actress deserving of a great showcase, and McDorman may find a take on the character that begins to register once he warms to the role. The writers might stumble across something to say about the differing perspectives of men and women in the dating world, and might even decide to say something that doesn’t sound straight out of a hacky stand-up routine from the early ‘90s. I don’t have high hopes that Manhattan Love Story will become great, but anything is possible. If nothing else, it might become watchable. Which would be a definite improvement over this pilot.
- “Get out of my soul, witch!”
- “Oh come on, how does that auto-correct into pirate condom?”
- “Just because he’s not deaf doesn’t mean everybody’s not deaf!” “That’s the bleakest optimism I’ve ever heard.”
I don’t have high hopes that Manhattan Love Story will become great, but anything is possible.