A couple of weeks back, our own Pilot Viruet wrote about one of the uglier trends of the new television season: the “stupid, silly women” of the romantic comedies that are all over the airwaves this fall. She focused on the vapid/clutzy heroines of ABC’s Selfie and Manhattan Love Story; now, NBC has added its horse to this dubious derby, in the form of Marry Me. Its heroine, Annie, isn’t as aggressively offensive as the women at the center of Selfie and Manhattan, so hooray for small accomplishments, but nonetheless, even Casey Wilson’s energetic playing can’t save this exhausted character type.
And the worst part is, this should work. Marry Me is created by David Caspe, who not only created Wilson’s previous series, Happy Endings, but also met and began dating her during that show’s run. They were married last summer, so it seems safe to bet that the show is at least partially inspired by their engagement, if such an assumption didn’t require me to believe that Wilson is a character in a bad ‘90s rom-com.
Because, you see, Wilson’s Annie is, per her beloved, a “crazy little maniac” who is “always caught up in the moment,” flighty and nutty and, of course, totally obsessed with marriage. She and Jake (Ken Marino) have been dating for six years, and the show begins with them returning from an idyllic Mexican vacation, during which she expected Jake to finally pop the question. When he doesn’t, she has a full-on meltdown, railing for several minutes about not only his deficiencies and insecurities, but those of their family and friends — not noticing, the entire time, that he is on one knee with a ring in hand.
That scene — which, full disclosure, does come to a pretty funny conclusion — is emblematic of what’s wrong not just with Marry Me, but with bad romantic comedy in general: it’s an amusing enough idea, stretched far past any point of reasonable credibility. For Annie to go on as long as she does, she has to keep her back to kneeling, ring-bearing Jake forever, and as gifted a joke vendor as Wilson is, she cannot sell this labored bit. At some point, a real person would, y’know, turn around and at least glance at the boyfriend they’re giving the business to, if for no other reason than to see if their jabs are landing. Yet craaaaaaazy Annie is so off in her own little world that she has no idea, and it passes a point where it’s no longer funny, but willfully stupid, the slightest sliver of believability tossed out the window at the service of a frankly tired gag.
And that’s kind of what we’re up against here. It’s not that Marry Me is a total loss; there are witty lines here and there, Wilson gets some laughs despite being hamstrung by her limited character, and Ken Marino is a surprisingly credible romantic lead. But he’s also playing the straight man most of the time, which seems a real waste of someone who does weirdos and freaks so well — but, y’know, he’s gotta be the sane one, since his girlfriend/fiancée is so loopy, so crazy to take that walk down the aisle, ladies, am I right?
As Pilot notes, this post-How I Met Your Mother glut of TV romantic comedies arrives just as the rom-com has gone all but extinct at the multiplex. The trouble with the genre’s transfer from big screen to small is that they haven’t figured out why people stopped watching: because those films were increasingly stuck in a rut, unable to transcend the tropes and types (uptight single gal, marriage-obsessed needy girl, lovable commitment-phobic rogue, sassy best girlfriend, chubby vulgarian best guy friend, etc.) that had outlived their relevance. These shows might feature smartphones and social media and topical references, but they’re as stuck in the ‘90s as a BuzzFeed listicle.
Marry Me premieres tonight on NBC.