fall tv 2014

‘I Just Can’t Watch You, Marry Me’: A Dramatic Monologue by a TV Critic Who Just Can’t

Photo: NBC

I’m sorry, Marry Me, but I just can’t. You’re a charmingly acted, handsomely produced, and good-natured new NBC sitcom that I just can’t watch.

I just can’t.

I’m so sorry, Marry Me, because I know you want us to have a relationship that lasts for six seasons and a movie. But I just can’t. I have to end this relationship after just one week. Maybe it’s better if I don’t explain.

You want me to explain? All right, then. You’d better sit down.

You’re a sitcom where every character seems slotted into the standard TV-romantic-comedy roles, including the ones that are, by TV’s standards, relatively “new.” There’s the high-strung, kinda naggy woman, (Casey Wilson’s Annie); the super-laid-back nice guy, Jake (Ken Marino); the hard-edged, free-spirited single lady and best gal-pal (Sarah Wright Olsen’s Dennah); the schlumpy Zach Galifianakis–type best buddy of the hero, who’s divorced and sells hair-care products (John Gemberling’s Gil); and Annie’s goofy lesbian next-door neighbor, Kay (Tymberlee Hill). There’s also Tim Meadows and Dan Bucatinksy as Annie’s two gay dads, who don’t have much in the way of material but are supposed to be funny, I guess, because they’re gay and they’re dads? (Did Bucatinsky’s shirt and sweater have to be lavender?) You’re the kind of show where every beat seems calculated, however benevolently, to appeal to ingrained stereotypes about the genders, and about particular groups of people, and to network-TV assumptions about what men and women need to see.

I know, I know — you’re not trying to seem calculated or inauthentic. I know everything you’re doing is what you believe in your heart is the right thing to do. I know it’s all coming from a kind and pure place.

But I just can’t, Marry Me. I just can’t.

You want an example? Of course you do, that’s only fair. Let me see: Okay, there’s that opening scene, where Annie and her then-boyfriend Jake come home from a vacation, and she expected him to propose to her and is upset that he didn’t, and she says, “I can’t believe we have been dating for six years, and I am 32! You know, you don’t meet a lot of couples that just date for six years?” It’s the kind of pilot exposition that a viewer just sort of has to accept; I know you’re trying to get the basic information out in the first scene, and that’s fine! Honestly! But the way she says it, nearly hysterical? You know? Talking about her single friend Dennah, who thinks she’s all independent but someday’ll “be that weird, sad, short-haired aunt who brings a friend to everything”? Well, I know it’s supposed to be funny, but like a lot of the dialogue in the pilot, it plays like “Women just want to get married, it’s all they ever think about, am I right?” Annie seems like a marriage-crazy chick out of a dude’s self-flattering stand-up routine, somebody who needs to get hitched “while I still have one egg,” as she puts it. And he seems like such a good-natured lump who’s just trying not to set her off. Haven’t we seen this kind of thing too many times, Marry Me? Isn’t it better to try to do something different, maybe mess with our preconceptions?

Sure, that shot in the opening kitchen scene where Annie’s in the foreground, eating compulsively to assuage her hysteria over still being single, and the camera moves to reveal Jake on his knees holding a ring? Yes, that’s clever, Marry Me, but — I don’t know if I’m making sense here; like I said, maybe it’s me! — but there’s something off about it, to the point where you wonder if maybe Jake’s about to marry a person with the sorts of issues that’ll turn the show into a thriller, which can’t happen, of course, because the show is supposed to be all lovely and harmless and “Ah, yes, that’s exactly what marriage is!” (Did we really need a shot of her waving a knife around? Yes, I know, it’s supposed to be funny, but it’s a little creepy. Don’t you think? You don’t? I withdraw the observation, please don’t stand up, you can sit, it’s fine.)

Casey Wilson is very funny — I like how in yoga class, she announces, “I’m sweating like Shaq,” while balancing on one leg, and I also liked her performance of “I Will Always Love You” at karaoke, where she showcases a vibrato that’d look like a tsunami if you mapped it on a sound meter — but it all doesn’t play the way you seem to hope it’ll play. You know?

You don’t? 

Okay, let’s talk about that office scene, then. Undeterred in her quest for matrimony, Annie comes into Jake’s workplace and proposes to him. Everyone’s standing around Jake staring incredulously, as they well should, because the whole thing is unnerving. It doesn’t feel like an interrupted proposal or an “I quit, and I’m taking this goldfish with me!” scene in a Hollywood comedy. It feels miscalculated. Like you’re not as sure of your tone as you think you are. You know the way Jake is staring at Annie in that office proposal scene? That’s how I’m looking at you. Like your title should be Marry Me and I Promise I’ll Stay 50 Feet Away From You at All Times.

You’re just too much an embodiment of the sitcom usual, and the gender-stereotypes usual, and the network-creativity usual (see the soundtrack, with the plinky-plinky banjo music signifying harmless cuteness, and Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros’ “Home” as goofy-inspirational theme music). I just don’t want to go back for another episode of you. I’m looking for something different in a sitcom.

What do I mean by that? Not as predictable. Not as forced. Not acting like you’re the epitome of feather-light charm when everything you do makes me want to trigger a silent alarm. I know it’s usually better to be kind than honest, but this is one of those cases where I have to be honest, Marry Me

Like I said, maybe it’s not you. Maybe it’s me. Either way, I just can’t watch you. And I think maybe we should leave it at that.

I Just Can’t Watch You, Marry Me. I Just Can’t.