308 – Marry Me, “Pilot”

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I love starting reviews with “I love (blank).” It’s an interesting trend because if you ask anyone who knows me, I really don’t love much. That’s not totally true, it’s just that I feel the need to vocalize negatives over positives. Anyway, that’s something I’ll have to work through with my analyst. It’s all a lead-up to the following, anyway: I loved Happy Endings. No qualifiers on that one; Happy Endings is (was, RIP) one of the best shows of the current decade. It was quick and smart and a pretty good encapsulation of my sense of humor as a slightly aimless, city-dwelling twenty-something. Other shows like How I Met Your Mother and New Girl are effective sitcoms, but Happy Endings hit like nothing else. So needless to say I was very bummed when the series was cancelled last year – a feeling that was slightly mitigated by the fact that three seasons was much more than the show’s ratings might have earned it. Good news for Endings-heads, however, as creator/executive producer David Caspe is back with a new series. And he has brought along Happy Endings-lead/his-real-life-wife Casey Wilson to star alongside Ken Marino in Marry Me.

The pilot opens with Annie (Wilson) and Jake (Marino) returning from a vacation to Mexico. We learn through a healthy chunk of exposition that the pair have been dating for six years, and Annie is clearly expecting a proposal. When Jake coyly plays this off Annie launches into an aggressive takedown of Jake and pretty much everyone they know, unaware that he is holding up an engagement ring in anticipation of her turning around. It gets… awkward.

It’s the kind of gag that would have been a quick throwaway on Happy Endings, but it initiates the entire plot here, and not necessarily in a good way. For all the quality in Wilson’s delivery, everything Annie brings up is pretty standard sitcom stuff, as are her and Marino’s archetypal characters; Annie is shrill and needy, while Jake is somewhat aloof and distant. As the episode moves along, however, there are signs that Caspe hopes to subvert these stereotypes.

Jake is turned off by Annie’s blow-up (though it is not the first time she has done something so dramatic and weird, as we learn in flashbacks), and so the two break off to make time with their respective pals: Jakes hangs with his friend Gil (John Gemberling), while Annie vents with Dennah (Sarah Wright Olsen), Kay (Tymberlee Hill), and her gay dads Kevin (Tim Meadows) and Kevin (Dan Bucatinsky). Ultimately Annie decides to take up the proposal game herself, a decision which drives the rest of episode.

It isn’t a bad episode, really, at least not for a pilot, but I do question the longevity of the show’s format. The focus of the series is so much on Annie and Jake that there really isn’t room for the supporting characters to get a foothold. This is especially disappointing because the strength of Happy Endings came from the interplay of its ensemble. It is unclear whether Wilson and Marino can pick up all of that slack (particularly Marino, whose work always feels like it’s coated in a fine layer of irony).

But it’s just not fair to judge a sitcom by its pilot, and it’s especially not fair to judge Marry Me in the shadow of Happy Endings. Everything will change – from the writing to the directing to the performances. And that’s good. There is solid stuff here; I couldn’t help but smile at times, specially the comical asides peppered throughout the episode by various characters.

I have hope that Marry Me will find its stride. Luckily I’m a little late to the party, so there are already a few more episodes just waiting for me to dive on in. At the end of the day there is absolutely nothing wrong with a fresh sitcom featuring a strong female lead. Plus maybe – just maybe – Annie is really Penny Hartz in disguise and we will still have a chance to see the Happy Endings gang hang one more time. Or not. That’s okay too. I’ll move on eventually.

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