Giving Perfect Couples a Fair Chance

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I’m just going to come out and say it: I don’t hate Perfect Couples. I’m basically the only one, and soon, that “don’t” will change to the past tense. On April 7, NBC will air the final episode of the show, leaving two unaired episodes to appear on the inevitable Perfect Couples: Complete Series DVD package, paving the way for the April 17th premiere of The Paul Reiser Show, sure to be beloved by the 12 people who still admit to loving Mad About You.

So, what the heck went wrong? For starters, the characters never went anywhere. Not in a physical, they-literally-didn’t-move sense, but rather, it was obvious that if the show ran for four seasons, the characters would still be the same in episode 75 as they were in the pilot. You want characters to remain consistent, sure, but not stagnant, either.

Last night’s episode, “Perfect Lies,” was a, well, perfect example of this. Dave, Vance, and Rex (played by Kyle Bornheimer, David Walton, and Hayes MacArthur) do something bad—specifically, they mess up a wedding dress in a scenario that involves a stripper, sand, and fire, and sounds a lot cooler than it is—while Amy, Leigh, and Julia (Mary Elizabeth Ellis, Olivia Munn, and Christine Woods) are off doing something girly (last night, it was a bachelorette party in sexy Vancouver).

That’s more or less the plot of every episode (lots of plot descriptions that use the word “alas”), and while it’s a scenario that can work (see: Friends), you need believable (and charming) enough relationships between the couples to pull it off. That’s been the show’s biggest problem: you don’t get any sense of why the couples are paired together, let alone why they love one another.

When the men are off together doing their own thing, as they were last night, the show’s fine—nothing special, but fine. Ditto with the women. But when the six are together, with each male/female couple bouncing off one another, the show bombs. There’s no passion between the characters and because they’re already paired off, there’s no potential for a Joey/Rachel relationship, which, frankly, saved Friends. (And the few times that they’ve added an outside actor to the group, like Amy’s friend Dotty, possessor of the world’s most annoying Southern accent, it’s been a disaster.)

“Perfect Lies” was the first time the show didn’t use a pre-credits titled sequence (things like “Stepping In It,” with three brief clips of the couples metaphorically stepping in something), and although it’s nice they got rid of it, it’s a too little too late at this point. The producers also should have gotten rid of the show’s nearly-sterile look and add a more descript setting (I’ve seen every episode of Perfect Couples, and only last night did I realize they lived in Portland — and it’s a far cry from Portlandia). Also, if you’re going to be a single-camera sitcom, take advantage of it. There’s no reason why the show, mostly set in the couples’ homes, couldn’t have been multi-camera.

There was potential in Perfect Couples, especially with such a fine group of actors and actresses (special acknowledgement goes to MacArthur and Elizabeth Ellis, who deserves a sitcom all to herself at this point), and that’s probably why I don’t hate the show. Plus, you know, Olivia Munn (in every discussion I’ve had with a male regarding why they watch the show, the answer has always been: “Because Olivia Munn’s hot”). But the writers really let the ensemble down. The dialogue never sounds like a discussion real people would have; it sounds set up, and there’s nothing worse than a sitcom sounding like a stand-up set (imagine if Seinfeld had been nothing but the cheesy jokes Jerry told in the early seasons at the club). Without that air of separation, especially in a show about relationships, you’re left with six extremely upper-middle class characters who aren’t particularly likable and don’t sound real. Really, the only thing they did right was to NOT have an episode that has, for instance, Dave developing sexual feelings for Amy.

But when the best thing you can say about a show is that it deserves props for not having someone cheat on their wife, maybe it’s time to try something else in the plush post-Community, pre-Office timeslot, something that isn’t The Paul Reiser Show. But! It’s better than Outsourced.

Josh Kurp does like the show’s theme song, though, performed by the New Pornographers.