When ABC canceled the struggling comedy “Happy Endings” after its third season last year, there was a lot of high talk in certain quarters. Sure, the ratings were dismal, some argued, but the fans were dedicated, making the cancellation a Terrible Decision, indicative of broadcast networks’ inhumanity toward the half-hour comedy.
Now all those outraged fans have a second chance. “Marry Me,” a new comedy premiering on NBC Tuesday night, is not a direct spinoff of “Happy Endings,” but it might as well be.
Created by the same writer (David Caspe), set in the same city (Chicago), following the same theme (love, enriched by pop culture immersion and thwarted by immaturity) with the same cha-cha-cha cadence (rant, rant, breathe; rant, rant, breathe), “Marry Me” also stars Casey Wilson, who brings the same charming high-intensity scattiness to Annie as she did to her “Happy Endings” character Penny.
Wilson is, in fact, now married to Caspe, which is adorable, or might be if NBC weren’t marketing the symbiosis of their romantic/creative union so frantically that one fears for its health on both levels. She is also the driving force of “Marry Me,” Annie being the high-strung, over-sharing half of the couple around which the show revolves. The excellent Ken Marino stars as the passively aggressive, oops, I mean mellow, Jake, the other half.
Unfortunately, the show seems to be slightly less than a sum of its parts.
After dating for six years, Annie and Jack have just returned from a romantic weeklong vacation, during which Annie assumed Jake would finally propose. Only he didn’t, because he had something more dramatic in mind (see above reference to “passive aggressive”).
Alas, before Jake can do things his way, Annie finally loses patience and launches into a full-scale rant that manages to trash his friends, her friends and Jake’s mother (JoBeth Williams). All of whom are hiding in the apartment as part of Jake’s Proposal Plan.
Oh, poor Annie. As she says to her BFF Dennah (Sarah Wright Olsen) the next day in yoga class, she’s waited all her life for this moment and then blew it by not waiting six more seconds.
Never mind the wisdom marrying someone who rigs a proposal for maximum disaster potential (I know, I’ll wait until after the stressful return trip home and then secretly invite our family and friends over to watch!) and then lets you vent your (righteous) anger without informing you that your apartment is filled with other people. I’m not Annie’s mother — in fact, she has two dads, both of whom are named Kevin, and wonderfully played by Tim Meadows and Dan Bucatinsky — so if she wants to spend the rest of the episode attempting to fix her “mistake,” then by all means, let her proceed.
If only it weren’t such a ridiculous, occasionally maddening setup, chock full of character trends in place of characters: In addition to the two dads (who named Annie after the musical), John Gemberling plays Gil, Jake’s predictably bearded, jaded and endomorphic friend.
All the performers seem more than capable of making characters from caricatures, none more than Wilson and Marino. But the question is, will Caspe let them?
As Gertrude Stein once said of Oakland, there doesn’t seem to be enough of a there, there. On the face of it, “Marry Me” is not quite deep enough to be a rom-com (Annie and Jake clearly love each other) and not quite broad enough to be an ensemble piece.
More important, it’s not quite funny enough to distract viewers from its structural ambivalence. This leaves “Marry Me” in something of the same predicament as its leads, which means it may have to spend the next few weeks running around trying to “fix” things.
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When: 9 p.m. Tuesday
Rating: TV-14-DL (may be unsuitable for children under the age of 14, with advisories for suggestive dialogue and coarse language)