Marry Me Would Be Great Without The Premise

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Marry Me has all the hallmarks of something that’s going to be great: A killer cast, including the long undersung Ken Marino and Casey Wilson, and a writer at the helm, Happy Ending‘s David Caspe, with a track record of seriously funny stuff. But in the first episode of the single-camera sitcom, which aired on NBC last night, it comes off as something that was a great idea on paper but falls flat in execution.

The plot, for example, is a problem. Imagine pitching an entire show on the premise that a couple just can’t get married because they no one can get the proposal right. The opening scene has Annie and Jack returning from a Mexican vacation only for Annie to launch into a diatribe about how she’s 32 and why hasn’t Jack popped the question and is it because his garbage friends and family have talked him out of it while, of course, Jack is on one knee with a ring box behind her turned back with all their friends and family hidden in the apartment.

From the very beginning, it feels like a set-up. If, like Annie and Jack, you had been dating for six years, couldn’t you have a conversation about something like that? Why, in the 21st century, would Annie be required to keep frustratedly hinting about her dwindling egg supply instead of say, raising the subject herself?  The problem with Marry Me is that it’s trying to be a sitcom with 2014 humor and 1950s-era gender roles.

Once the proposal actually gets resolved, and, in the course of 22 minutes, Annie and Jack manage to make up to all their offended friends and family and present themselves as an engaged couple, what is the plot of the rest of the season? Marry Me seems like a tiny encapsulated rom-com, with few hints of what future episodes would do to improve its lot.

Which is a shame, because judging a show on just its pilot is a dicey endeavor. Many shows need a couple episodes to breathe and develop, to shake off their initial strictures and become something wholely their own. We all learn from imitating people we admire. The Rolling Stones wanted to be Muddy Waters. Some of best pieces of pop culture come from people trying and failing to recreat something. This year’s crop of pilots particularly seems to have modeled itself off classic sitcom conventions so much (see: Mulaney‘s near-slavish devotion to Seinfeld) that it’ll take a while to dig out from under those loving tributes and into something that stands along. Marry Me has shades of an updated I Love Lucy and nods to all kinds of cultural phenomena threaded through its fabric.

It’s a show that definitely has potential: The chemistry of the stars is undeniable, and there are plenty of moments where something genuinely funny juts out of the premise. David Caspe’s last show, Happy Ending, was an exercise in packing in as many jokes as possible into his allotted 22 minutes. Watching Marry Me, you can see glimmers under the surface of that kind of breakneck comedic pace, the one-liners yearning to breathe once rescued from underneath the heavy plotting. But we could perhaps consider the pilot a first date, and not a proposal.

 

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