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'A to Z,' to the letter, is a sweet, sincere, simple rom-com

Ben Queen's "A to Z" is the most promising comedy premiering on broadcast networks this fall. That's not saying much — this is not a particularly good year for new comedies — but it's saying something.

Something like, "If you're longing for a heart-on-its-sleeve show that focuses exclusively on romance, and you feel, as many of us did, that Cristin Milioti got a raw deal on 'How I Met Your Mother,' " in which she got to play the titular mom for three minutes before being heartlessly killed off, then this might be the show for you."

As my colleague Robert Lloyd recently noted, the comedie du saison is the rom-com, straight up and sincere, as opposed to sweetly satiric ("New Girl," "The Mindy Project") or cynically satiric ("The Worst"), and "A to Z," which begins Thursday on NBC, is the straightest up and most sincere of the lot.

This is Andrew (Ben Feldman) and this is Zelda (Milioti), we are told by Katey Sagal in voice-over. They will date for "eight months, three weeks, five days and one hour"; "A to Z" is the "comprehensive account" of that time.

If this setup reminds you of the lovely and lyrical relationship-forensics film "500 Days of Summer," it's no doubt supposed to, which is not necessarily a bad thing. If it also seems conceptually obsessed, well, any show in which the characters' initials and the titles of the episodes hammer home an alphabet theme definitely had an unhealthy relationship with its own concept.

The characters are, unsurprisingly, divided by more than 26 letters. Andrew works for an online dating service and has managed to hang on to a lover's idealism, despite the company's business plan of keeping as many people single and desperately seeking as possible.

Zelda, on the other hand, is a high-performance lawyer focused on her career and wary of words such as "destiny" and "meant to be." Which Andrew, of course, quickly throws at her, convinced, after their first meeting, that she is, in fact, the woman he fell in love with across a crowded room two years previous.

Indeed, the only thing the lead characters initially share is their penchant for wacky best friends. Andrew has Stu (Henry Zebrowski), and Zelda has Stephie (Lenora Crichlow of the original "Being Human," who deserves a non-bestie role in an American show very soon).

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Fortunately, the lead actors share many other and much more important traits. Equally saucer-eyed and engaging, Feldman and Milioti possess an attractive but still admirably expressive miens and the comedic timing required for Queens' nicely wrought depiction of early courtship's nervous hope.

Together, Andrew and Zelda fizz more than sizzle, but then this show is all about Big Romance — something television still tends to keep in a separate comedic box from Hot Sex. And though sex of some temperature will no doubt occur (probably with adorable anxiety and possibly between episodes called "Repression" and "Therapy"), "A to Z" is much more concerned with the magic, mystery and mishaps of falling in love.

Which may start off as simple as ABC but then gets way more complicated. With any luck, this show will follow suit.

Twitter: @marymacTV

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'A to Z'

Where: NBC

When: 9:30 p.m. Thursday

Rating: TV-PG-L (may be unsuitable for young children, with an advisory for coarse language)

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