Thursday, August 04, 2011

TV: Love Bites - The best replacement for Summer Romantic Movies

Starring: Becki Newton, Greg Grunberg, Constance Zimmer and many others
Category: Romantic Comedy
It's summer, the season of loud, often over-promoted, multi-tie-in movies starring big stars (paid with big bucks) or starring big budget CGI. It's also the season for Romantic Comedies, counter-programming for the feminine side of the audience. Translated into: something to drag the masculine half to after the big robot / animation / comic-book conversion / sci-fi-fantasy movie he dragged the feminine half to.
Problem is there hasn't been a good romantic comedy (or even romance movie at that) lately in the theaters. That is where TV's Love Bites comes in.
Love Bites is the romantic comedy for the Twitter generation. It's short, straight-to-the-point plots does not deviate from the delivery of the punchline. It is as if the writers formula is:
  1. Take a standard romantic comedy movie plot
  2. Strip out the sub-plots and secondary characters.
  3. Re-focus and innovate on the core theme. 
Secondary characters and sub-plots are replaced by the series regulars Greg Grunberg as Judd and Becky Newton as Annie. They tie the various stories together through their relationships and friendships or merely exist to provide continuity or relevance of some kind. Each episode has three stories which either intersect, continue from one another or linked in some way, usually via Judd or Becky. At times, they are the main players of their story arc.
I loved the first episode as it guest starred Jennifer Love Hewitt as herself offering a proposition to Judd many men wouldn't turn down. He finds himself next to Jennifer on a flight to a bachelor getaway of his friend Carter. Carter has to deal with his fiancee, Liz, his firing from his job and her new discovery. He finds himself competing for her attention with a machine. It was a gift given at her bachelorette party where Becki's friend cops to being a virgin to attract the attention of a guy. If that is a lot to take in, the pace doesn't let up in the following episodes.
I wasn't distracted by the number of characters. It was very busy and very intricate, which makes repeat viewing a must. Half the fun was following all the characters and their own stories. And it wasn't as if the plots were like in soap opera ridiculous territory. The characters felt real and often face real problems. Judd and Colleen feel like real people. Not everything is perfect but some how they are perfect together. Sometimes, you can see right through to which movie a particular story seems to rip off, only for the plot veer left, leaving you surprised at the conclusion. If I can put it in a way, the overall plot complexity didn't go up to the level of Lost but it was heading there. In a good way.
You can really enjoy it if you focus on each individual story separately. Don't worry how it all ties in or who these people are. Like I said before, you can take this as a replacement of those summer romantic comedies. Think of it as 3 movies in an hour. How cool is that? Not to mention cheaper.
Maybe because of the many characters, the people behind Love Bites decided to bring in familiar faces in familiar roles. You immediately recognize not only the stars but also their personalities they played in other TV series. Slightly immature womanizing doctor, insecure guy who has to live out a lie he created for his girlfriend, married-for-too-many-years odd couple consisting of ultra conservative husband and liberal wife to name a few. Watch and try figure out who I just described and where else they played the same character.
What did bother me was a few small things. The Jodie character was exactly the same as Cassie in the first episode, only played by a different actress. Constance Zimmer replaced Pamela Adlon who was Judd's wife Colleen in the first episode. So why couldn't the writers be honest and not change the characters name from Cassie to Jodie, even though they were essentially the same. Maybe they wanted to keep the door open for Krysten Ritter, who played Cassie, to return in some future episode.

I think the key factors for this series to be a success are
  • Repeat the characters already shown. Grow their stories too.
  • Go ahead rehash plots used for some characters for others but add a twist
  • Add a little heart ache, if you must. Not all couples make it. Some don't and some face speed bumps
  • The most generic of all: find out what makes viewers interested and come back. Do more of that. But hurry you only have so much time to find your audience.
There is a lot going against this series. Unfortunately, TV series like this takes time to find their audience. It needs time to grow on you and find it's way. It's rich tapestry of characters is it's strength as well as it's weakness. There will a be a core group that will love it for it's quirkiness and there will be others who are demanding it to be dumbed down for them. The larger cast also means it is probably more expensive to produce. Shooting on location adds more cost. Most cost means a higher audience target before the advertisers are willing to pay good money for it and for it to make money. Therefore, it's more likely to be in the cancellation cross-hairs than less than deserving shows. Melissa and Joey comes to mind. Don't get me wrong. I love Melissa Joan Hart and Drive Me Crazy is a subtly subversive teen movie. But more likely Love Bites will fall for the same reasons Cupid did. Melissa and Joey is shot on a studio with only a few main characters with a simple (read rehashed) plot to follow. Cheap to produce, easy on the average couch potato. A winning formula (although that didn't help Romantically Challenged which was way better).
Which is a shame because there aren't that many good romantic comedies at the movies right now.

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