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'Romantically Challenged' - 'Don't Be Yourself' Recap (Series Premiere)

by Jason Hughes, posted Apr 20th 2010 1:50AM
(S01E01) Alyssa Milano is one of those actresses certain segments of the population gravitate to. Her latest project brings her back to her sitcom roots, in more ways than one. From the first scenes in the restaurant the "gang" hangs out in, 'Romantically Challenged' had all the trappings of an old school buddy sitcom.
Reminiscent of 'Friends' or 'Seinfeld' at times, though not reaching those heights comically, I was surprised by my own reaction to the episode. I've tried to avoid early press about the series, but you can't help noticing the headlines. The overall opinion seems to be that the show's not that great, but Milano is as charming and delightful as ever in the series.

Oddly enough, I almost feel the exact opposite of the general consensus. While I thought the show had the makings of a respectable enough sitcom, it was Milano who felt the most awkward and out of place.

Because of the strange power Milano has over "men of a certain age," my perception is that 'Romantically Challenged' was being promoted as an Alyssa Milano star vehicle. Instead, it looks like it's going to be a pure ensemble piece, in the same way Courteney Cox's latest star project, 'Cougar Town,' has found success by spreading the love across its cast. Selling this as an Alyssa Milano comedy is a disservice to the kind of series this is, and to the strength of the remaining cast.

What little we know so far is that there are four adults of similar ages. Rebecca Thomas (Milano) has a younger -- and much tinier -- sister Lisa (Kelly Stables). They hang out with two guys who room together: Perry (Kyle Bornheimer), whom Rebecca has known since high school, and Shawn (Josh Lawson), who's a writer and kind of the Kramer of the group.

Interestingly enough, it looks like the series was developed with the Shawn character in the lead role, attached romantically to Rebecca. Now, Rebecca is divorced from an unseen husband with a fifteen year old, and she seems mildly disgusted by Shawn. The progression of shows from pilot to final product is always pretty fascinating. They even recast the Shawn role to better fit his smarmier and more fringe personality.

Of the main cast, though, unfortunately, Rebecca seems the weakest link thus far. Shawn is very well entrenched in his persona. When asked to help Rebecca's son with his creative writing class, Shawn would rather just have the kid turn in one of his own stories, only to throw temper tantrums when they didn't bring "A" grades.

This opening episode left a lot of questions about Perry, who's clearly the "nice guy." He has the confidence to talk to hot women, but got incredibly and hilariously uncomfortable when she pushed him to do the dirty stuff. The scenes between Lisa and Perry, where she tried to help him out by having him talk mean to her and rough her up a bit, were well written comedy, as was his call to her to psych him up with a Darth Vader voice.

All of those elements of the show are working pretty well, especially for a first episode. And yet, Milano seemed a bit awkward in her own character. She's a single working mother and a high-class lawyer; the fact that we're exploring her dating life in her latter 30s (Milano is 37) makes the show even more like 'Cougar Town.'

Maybe it's because in this first episode, she spent most of it just doing what her friends told her to do, which was to lie to her date about her job and the age of her kid, but I don't feel like I really got to know much about Rebecca as a person, or a character. If she is going to be touted as the lead of this series, I don't think I should come out of my first encounter with her knowing really nothing about her, except that she has really white teeth -- it looks like she got her teeth from the same place Turk (Donald Faison) got his for the latest season of 'Scrubs.'

I don't think 'Romantically Challenged' is going to be breaking new ground comedically, but I don't think that's what it's striving for. With comedy on the rise, there's a place in the television landscape for innovators, as well as those sitcoms that are more comfortable and familiar. There's nothing that says familiar can't be funny, and there were genuine laughs in these first 22 minutes.

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I heard of this show only because of Josh Lawson (any Sea Patrol fans out there?) - except he has no Australian accent (he talks with an American accent on the show) and he looks kind of dingy. But I guess that's how his character is supposed to be.

I didn't watch the show, but I did catch about 5 minutes - when the four were sitting around the table. I guess they do this a lot, because it wasn't the scene in the picture (Alyssa Milano was at the end of the table). She seemed kind of uncomfortable. Is it because she's more of a "star" than the rest of them? It was almost like she was a celebrity guest actor or something and seemed quite out of place.

April 20 2010 at 9:15 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I've been wary of sitcoms that implement laugh tracks since "Malcolm in the Middle". I don't know why, I just don't like the use of them too much. Not that it would turn me away from a truly enjoyable series, but this seems like a less funny rehash of "Friends" or any other buddy comedy you come across. I didn't find any of the characters particularly interesting or worthy of tuning in next week or the week after. There were some funny lines but the only thing that made me laugh out loud (although it was more of a single snort than full on laughter) was the end where the woman requested Perry's roommate be sent in to spank her.

All the scenes with the smaller girl were also kind of amusing, but that's more due to the fact that I know someone almost exactly like her- small and dangerous, like some kind of bomb.

April 20 2010 at 3:07 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I love Alyssa Milano, once a cutie who can also act, but she now looks like she bought her teeth mail order or through the U of P Veterinary Dental program. I cringe every time she smiles, she did NOT have those teeth when she was younger. Some dentist to the celebs convinced her a BIG smile is the way to go. I expect her to neigh instead of laugh.
Oh, show is cringeworthy, too, give it a month.

April 20 2010 at 1:01 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I had low expectations of this show because of all the things surrounding it. To me it will undoubtably be compared to Cougar Town, but I think it falls somewhere in between that show and How I Met Your Mother. (Two shows I really enjoy, although it took me a few episodes to get there with Cougar Town).

I thought the characters came on way too strong in the pilot, and they didn't hit all their lines comedically for me. I think it has the potential, I'm just not sure the actors can deliver and ABC isn't doing it any favors.

I mean a lead in as good as DWTS is great, but is it really going to pick up sitcom followers? Wouldn't it have done better in the empty slot along with The Middle, Modern Family and Cougar Town on Wednesdays!?

I have a 2-episode rule for all new shows I'm remotely interested in, so we'll see if it can pull a 'Cougar Town' and hook me on the 2nd ep.


April 20 2010 at 12:23 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

"The overall opinion seems to be that the show's not that great, but Milano is as charming and delightful as ever.."

Good grief, who wrote that drivel, her mother? No, we expected her to be annoying and repulsive. This truth is, this was depressingly bad, even for a first episode. The reviewer hit it on the head with his observation that Milano was the sole cast member that appeared ill at ease in her role, frankly her acting was not on par with the others. She grinned excessively in every scene, whether the scene called for her to be nervous, sad, angry, whatever, to the point it became a grimace, lending itself to the feeling you were watching an amateur, not the seasoned professional she is. My guess is she and the cast know what garbage the writers have given them. Sorry, not good enough, not even close.

April 20 2010 at 11:31 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I was dreading this show because of the previews, but watched despite myself and couldn't believe how much I was laughing. I mean, pause-it-because-I'm-laughing-so-hard-and-don't-want-to-miss-anything laughing. I agree that Milano is the weakest character so far, but I also agree with the Cougartown comparisons and I now love that show. I hope they give this one a chance - I have to see more of Perry and Shawn.

April 20 2010 at 10:45 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Frankly, I liked it much better than it's competition on CBS. I know there are people who like Big Bang Theory, but I just haven't been able to warm up to it. I thought this had a pretty respectable showing and was pleasantly surprised after all the bad press it has received.

April 20 2010 at 9:54 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Overall, I was pretty unimpressed - it felt like a generic sitcom that really didn't offer anything unique. That's not necessarily a bad thing, but this show was just to plain. I might watch another episode because I don't watch anything on Mondays, but I don't think I'll be keeping up with it.

April 20 2010 at 9:34 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I wasn't impressed, I only watched because of Milano I will admit. I wasn't impressed with Cougar town in it's first episode either, but I only watched again because of Courteney Cox. It grew on me so maybe this one will as well.

April 20 2010 at 9:04 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Oopps...typo..obviously that shouldve said Worst WEEK.

April 20 2010 at 8:56 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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