Is real love possible in a Match.com world?
A voiceover sets the scene: "Andrew and Zelda dated for eight months, three weeks, five days and one hour. This television program is the comprehensive account of their relationship, from A to Z." The framing device makes A to Z feel like a story told after the fact, exaggerated for comic effect (Thursday, 8:30 p.m., NBC).
The new sitcom reverses classic TV gender roles. Andrew (Ben Feldman), who works at a computer dating company, is the softie. He's a self-doubting romantic with a strong belief in destiny. Zelda (Cristin Milioti), a lawyer, is the hard one. Her unhappy childhood has given her a no-nonsense view of the world, and she resists Andrew's starry-eyed overtures. These two are surrounded by wonderfully absurd minor characters who represent the cynical side of modern romance. The idea is that real love is almost impossible to find in a Match.com world.
This is not one of those shows that look for an easy way to get a laugh (bodily fluids, cruel punch lines, etc.). It goes to the trouble of creating a comic universe, with just the right mix of reality and fantasy. If it lasts only eight months, three weeks, five days and one hour, I'll be crushed.
Thursday, 8 pm (NBC)
Rebecca (Kate Walsh) is a drunken, potty-mouthed rock drummer who also happens to be a judge. Bad Judge seems to think this premise is so funny it doesn't even need jokes. All it has to do is show Rebecca having sex with a hangover in her judge's chambers, and voilà: instant humor.
Unfortunately, humor doesn't work like that. A situation comedy needs a coherent situation, and Bad Judge fails to convince you that Rebecca really deserves the title "Judge," given her lack of gravitas. Even more embarrassing, it turns out she's not really even "Bad," given her soft spot for disadvantaged children.
No "Bad" + no "Judge" leaves Bad Judge pretty much a void.
Thursday, 8 pm (Fox)
Based on the BBC drama Broadchurch, this 10-episode mystery series is about a boy's murder in a small seaside city. The cranky new detective in town (David Tennant, re-creating his role from the original) delves into the case with his partner (Anna Gunn), whose son was a friend of the victim.
The BBC series brought to life the Broadchurch community, where everybody becomes a suspect. Gracepoint, by contrast, feels moribund. The filmmakers favor portentous slow motion, overbearing music and lots of onscreen weeping. The more intense the melodrama, the less we buy into the emotions.
If Gracepoint continues with its slow-motion tactics, the series' 10 episodes will feel like 20.
Sunday, 8:30 pm (Fox)
This new sitcom is about a standup comic who has the same name as the show's creator-writer-star, John Mulaney. It opens with John doing a standup routine, then segues into scenes at his apartment with a self-involved female friend (Nasim Pedrad) and two wacky guys (Seaton Smith, Zack Pearlman).
In other words, Mulaney replicates Seinfeld -- an effort that's doomed to failure unless you happen to have a few comic geniuses on board. Mulaney himself shows no promise as a writer or actor, stiffly declaiming his leaden punch lines. Martin Short, who is a comic genius, stars as a nutty game-show host, but even he can't salvage the unimaginative material.
Seinfeld was famously a "show about nothing." In other words, Mulaney is not even better than nothing.
Wednesday, 9 pm (CBS)
If you like seeing women doused with gasoline and burned alive by a masked madman, Stalker is the show for you. The filmmakers like this sadistic scenario so much that they repeat it three times in the pilot. The idea is that two unpleasant detectives (Maggie Q, Dylan McDermott) investigate stalking crimes in L.A., with lots of opportunities for Peeping Tom videos and torture porn.
I suspect viewers will respond to Stalker the same way they'd respond to an actual stalker: running away.