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TV Review: Romantically Challenged

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Sometimes after sitting and watching a new television show I need a day or two to process my thoughts – was what I just witnessed as bad as I think it was, is it going to grow on me, did I miss why anyone would find this good, am I crazy or is this the greatest thing that television has ever produced? Whether I loved, hated, or thought something truly middling, there are occasions when I need a little bit of extra time to process. That's why you're reading my thoughts on Romantically Challenged today instead of on Tuesday morning, and, for what it's worth, my opinion on the show didn't change the more I thought about it.

Starring Alyssa Milano and airing on ABC, Romantically Challenged is the story of a group of friends, one of whom has just recently undergone a divorce and has a teenage son (hubby moved to Seattle, allowing for a special appearance from time to time should the show last long enough). Milano's character, Rebecca, is a high-powered lawyer but as she's been married for much of her adult life, she is unwise in the ways of love. Helping her (badly) are her friends Perry (Kyle Bornheimer) and Shawn (Josh Lawson) as well as her sister, Lisa (Kelly Stables). They are, as you won't be surprised to find out, just as romantically challenged as Rebecca herself.

ABC/ADAM LARKEYPerry is the guy who feels too much, who is too emotional. Shawn is the out-of-work, none-too-great writer who is freeloading off Perry, living in Perry's guest room. Lisa is the kindergarten teacher who – it is hinted at – has something of a dirty mind (think Lily Aldrin). Each of the characters has the potential to be funny, they are certainly all characters we've seen before and have liked on a myriad of other sitcoms. However, the funniness fails to come across in Romantically Challenged's pilot.

It is really a very traditional sitcom setup. That is perfectly acceptable, there is something nice about knowing what to expect in general when you sit down to watch a television show. The issue with Romantically Challenged isn't that you know in general what is going to happen, it's that you know in specific – you know the jokes and the punchlines before they occur, sometimes several scenes in advance, and that is massively disappointing. For some reason in the pilot episode they even dare to go back to the well worn, rarely funny, comedic "no, you hang up first" bit, which was last funny when Rachel grabbed the phone from Ross and hung up on Julie.

Alyssa Milano has proven her comedic chops, but why she is the star in such a subpar comedy is wholly unclear. The numbers from the first week were not bad, but it did get a pretty cushy 9:30 timeslot opening with a 90-minute Dancing With the Stars lead-in. The numbers do nut augur well for the show's future, but for Milano and company that might be a good thing – it could allow everyone to quickly forget this project so that the stars can move onto the next.

The series is executive produced by Ricky Blitt (Family Guy) and the incredibly well known James Burrows, who worked on shows such as Cheers, Friends, and Will & Grace. They have the credentials to put out an enjoyable series but have certainly missed the mark here.

The show is actually perplexingly unfunny and that is, I think, why I needed an extended period to contemplate it. ABC has managed to get onto the air this year three new and very funny comedies in The Middle, Modern Family, and Cougar Town (yes, they had a misstep with Hank, but that disappeared so quickly that I had almost forgotten it existed in the first place). Romantically Challenged doesn't in any way measure up to those three.

It would be overly glib to refer to the show as "comedically challenged." It is better to simply say that despite talented people both in front of and behind the camera it is simply not a funny show.

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About Josh Lasser

Josh has deftly segued from a life of being pre-med to film school to television production to writing about the media in general. And by 'deftly' he means with agonizing second thoughts and the formation of an ulcer.