I have been known to stick with shows that aren’t very good just because I like the lead actor or actress. I will freely admit that my love of Clark Gregg propelled me through the first half of season 1 of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Manhattan Love Story (MLS) teeters on the edge of that territory for me, which is not something I didn’t know until I had already read several bad reviews for it. In fact, I hadn’t heard of the show until, one of my favorite TV critics skewered it in such a way that I felt I had to watch it just to see if I agreed that it was that bad. I would link to it here but it was through twitter and not on her blog (It’s Linda Holmes @nprmonkeysee). What’s important here is that I went into it with a bias. Bad TV is half the reason to watch TV in the first place so I dedicated a half hour of my life to judging it. Because I didn’t know this was a show, I didn’t know that Jake McDorman was going to be the male lead. McDorman played complicated frat boy Evan Chambers on Greek, which is a show that sits near and dear to my heart. This character is a lot like Evan Chambers so not a stretch for McDorman and probably warrants watching three episodes to see if it’s worth putting on the weekly line up.
The show seems like your general eventual love story. It admits what relationship story it is going to be telling. It’s similar to How I Met Your Mother in that after watching the pilot you have an expectation of how the story will eventually end. One way or another these two people are going to fall in love, maybe it will last and maybe it won’t, but it will definitely happen. The hook for HIMYM was that the audience didn’t know which girlfriend would eventually be the mother. The hook here is that we get a voiceover of both of the lead characters. McDorman plays cynical and confident city man Peter while Analeigh Tipton plays wide eyed new to the world Dana. They are forced together because Peter is brother in law to Dana’s only friend in the city, high maintenance yoga instructor Amy played by Jade Catta-Preta. A lot of things could be wrong with this formula but I think one screams out beyond the rest, and I’m going to get to it in just a second. First I want to address the voice over, because it worked better than I expected. Usually, if you’re inside a character’s head then they are the only character that you get to hear. This is unique in that you, as the audience, are hearing both simultaneously. This would definitely be a bad thing if the voice over was used to further the plot but they are using it to inject some comedy where there otherwise wouldn’t be any (Or at least there wouldn’t be enough).
Okay, down to the nitty gritty. What is actually wrong with this show, is that every character is exactly who you would expect them to be. The female lead, Dana, is timid, shy, and innocently pretty with flashes of backbone that do not make up for the lack of effort they put into her character. Her introductory scene shows her walking down the streets of NYC on day one of being in town and she is eyeballing every purse that walks by. We hear her voice over saying yes, yes over and over again as she sees all these awe inspiring bags she’s never seen before. This scene is boring and superficial but hey girls like purses right*? (*Possibly an actual sentence uttered by someone in the writing room for this show). The problem comes a few moments later Dana’s friend points out that her clothes are out of fashion and later in the episode she admits to being so enthralled with NYC that she needs a two page bucket list to keep all the things she wants to do straight in her head. Does that sound like a person who would spend their first moments in the city ogling purses? She could have been noticing a million things but they chose to go with purses because that was easy and hey girl’s like purses right? (Seriously I bet you a dollar someone said that)
As we are seeing Dana ogle purses we are also flashing back and forth with Peter. As TV coincidence would have it, he is walking down the same street. Only he isn’t noticing purses, obviously because he is a dude and dude’s love ladies. And by ladies I mean the ladies. And by the ladies I mean boobs. As he stares down each chest, he says in his head yes or no. It is especially funny when he says yes just before he sees that the woman he is looking at is pregnant, but then he considers it for another minute and thinks yes anyway. I mean, who wouldn’t want to have sex with a women 8+ month’s pregnant with another person’s child? Then he sees Dana and oh man is she is a yes, but not enough of a yes to warrant being recognized the next time they meet.
I want to rewrite this scene ten ways that would have been more interesting but the one that jumps out most to me is that their attitudes should be switched. Picture this introduction only Peter is new in town, a bit shy but friendly, and amazed at what he is seeing. Dana is a seasoned city girl who confidently walks down the street while checking out the guys going by her. It’s might not be a great scene or even a good scene but it’s at least something that wouldn’t be quite as predictable as the usual half hour sitcom.
If you are a Doctor Who fan, which I am, you know the story of the Pond’s. Amy Pond is a smart, strong, capable women who dates and then marries the nice boy from her hometown, Rory, who is smart, a bit awkward and has a big nose. She is confident, he wonders about the stability of their relationship. She questions whether she wants to be with Rory, he questions whether or not she will be with him, too. He even states at one point that it is a well known dynamic of their relationship that he loves her more, which she vehemently denies. This story is unique and there aren’t a ton of examples like it.
So here is a new story….Girl is confident if cynical. Guy is nice but awkward and shy. Girl meets guy and unknowingly offends him because of cynical nature. Guy leaves because he’s had a bad day and he can’t seem to get ahold of himself and calm down. Girl is forced by friend to reevaluate actions. Girl realizes guy was nice and she shouldn’t have treated him that way. Girl works to win back his affection with a romantic gesture. At the end of this episode you still have two people who need to change and grow to in a relationship with each other but you don’t have every romance story I have ever seen.
Would I watch it again? Well there’s a catch, Manhattan Love Story airs on ABC on Tuesday nights at 8:30 after Selfie. I have already mentally committed myself to tune in for Selfie for at least the first five episodes, because I love Karen Gillan (who played Amy Pond) that much. Even if you watch Selfie through the ABC website rather than real time MLS still automatically starts when Selfie ends, and inertia is a strong force in my world. There is a strong chance I will watch at least three of the first five episodes because of this. Maybe in that time something new will come of it that intrigues me like the Pond’s did, but I doubt it.