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Review: 'Mad Love' Has a Good Cast, But the CBS Comedy Doesn't Use It Well

by Maureen Ryan, posted Feb 14th 2011 3:00PM
Most of what you'll see in the new comedy 'Mad Love' (8:30ET Monday, CBS) won't come as a surprise.

Sarah Chalke, who plays New Yorker Kate Swanson, makes the flawless delivery of both comedic and emotional moments look effortless, but that would have been easy to predict after seeing her ace work on 'Scrubs' and 'How I Met Your Mother.'

It's also not surprising that the relatively charisma-free Jason Biggs, who plays Ben Parr, her almost-boyfriend on the relationship-centered sitcom, can't really keep up with Chalke in the charm or comedy departments.

Also not shocking: That Tyler Labine plays essentially the same character he's played on every other show he's ever been on, i.e., the goofy and sometimes gross buddy of the show's male lead.

Labine often brings an anarchic charm to these buddy roles, but his 'Mad Love' character, Larry Munsch, is a bit too crass in the pilot. The character doesn't really add much at this stage.

What's really shocking is that 'Mad Love' makes poor use of the wonderful Judy Greer, who is stuck in the thankless role of Connie Grabowski, Kate's best friend. Perhaps to make it look as if a pairing between Connie and the rumpled Larry isn't beyond the realm of possibility, the show's creative team has dressed Greer in dowdy khakis and bulky coats, which is just odd. (Photos from the show's press site make it look as if Connie gets something of a makeover in future episodes, but they also make it impossible not to notice how much the 'Mad Love' bar set looks like MacLaren's from 'How I Met Your Mother.')

The bigger problem is that the role of the sarcastic Connie fails to take advantage of Greer's extensive range. She's capable of tossing off cynical lines with perfect timing, but as she's proved on 'Arrested Development,' 'Archer' and the short-lived 'Miss Guided,' among other projects, Greer has a wonderful capacity for spacey, silly and just surreal comedy. Unfortunately the role of Connie is quite limited and it's hard to believe the more cosmopolitan Kate would hang out with this drab killjoy.

Like dozens of recent network comedies, 'Mad Love' feels as though it was focus-grouped until any edges it might have had were completely worn away. Greer, like the rest of the cast, has to deliver material that feels as though it was recycled from a dozen other New York-set comedy about young people in the big city; almost every line sounds like something you've heard before.

There's also something a little bit retro, and not in a good way, about the way a bunch of recent comedies view relationships. Comedy goes in cycles, and as though the dumpy-dad/hot-wife family comedy appears to be on the decline, the attitudes and stereotypes of those traditional sitcoms appear to live on in newer shows such as 'Perfect Couples,' 'Better With You,' 'Traffic Light' and now 'Mad Love.' On all those shows, guys tend to be lovable lugs who have more or less decent intentions but get things wrong, and women are the taskmasters whom the hapless dudes can't often please. 'Traffic Light' isn't exactly 'Yes, Dear,' but the shows have more in common than they should, given that we're well in the 21st Century.

It's not that the women in those shows are uniformly unlikable; as Joel Keller pointed out in his review of 'Traffic Light,' Liza Lapira's refreshing character doesn't give off any nagging-wife vibes. And it can't be denied that in 'Mad Love,' Kate's by far the most likable person on the screen. Yet she also puts up with a lot from the rather schlubby Ben, and she may stand out because the other characters are so forgettable.

In any event, watching 'Mad Love' and 'Traffic Light' (which Joel liked more than I did) made me feel new appreciation for comedies such as 'How I Met Your Mother' and 'Parks and Recreation,' where the characters and the romances feel specific and real. Of course, those shows all had time to work out their kinks, but I tend not to trust a show that can't use Judy Greer well. She can do everything, for goodness' sake. But seeing Greer do tired material is worse than not seeing her on TV at all.

The fact is, at this stage, Sarah Chalke is carrying 'Mad Love' on her very capable shoulders. The question is, is it worth her efforts? If the ensemble around her shows signs of gelling and the material sharpens up a lot in coming weeks, maybe. But based on 'Mad Love' pilot, I'd like nothing more than for Kate to travel to Pawnee or for her to move in next to Jules on 'Cougar Town.' Those are shows that could teach 'Mad Love' a thing or two about ensemble comedy and wringing laughs from love.

Follow @MoRyan on Twitter.

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The show is one big irritant. Everything always goes wrong which makes it embarassing to watch and the characters are not likeable. I keep trying to watch it, but I just don't like them. The character Larry is the worst. He is unattractive in looks, but mostly in personality. He plays the buddy role that is supposed to be similar to David Spades cad like role in "Rules of Engagement", but while David is funny this guy in not. Too bad because I love a good ensamble comedy (The Big Band Theory), but ths show does not cut it.

April 26 2011 at 3:55 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Very much disagree. I tuned in because I wanted to see if a show including Chalke, Greer, and Biggs could be as bad as the reviews I've read. What a surprise. I found myself laughing out loud at least a dozen times. Smart, clever, well paced. Wrong on this one, Maureen.

February 15 2011 at 11:10 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Thanks so much for noticing the bar. I didn't watch the series (I'm kind-of afraid to), but I'll probably be checking back in with it later. But when I first saw the image for this post, I definitely thought, "Why the hell are they at McClarens? Is this some kind of meta joke?"

February 15 2011 at 11:36 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Tony DiMeo

Despite these flaws I will still watch anything with Sarah Chalke as she is just that adorable

February 14 2011 at 4:56 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

This is disappointing. I like Judy Greer and Sarah Chalke a lot and JG deserves a successful show.

February 14 2011 at 4:38 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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