Love Bites, "Boys to Men": right time, wrong network?

Quick Take: Love Bites, "Boys to Men"
When bad luck meets mediocre comedy.

Chris Gorham and Izabella Miko

Though cable channels have in recent years become quality viewing destinations in summer months, the summer schedule has long been a “graveyard” of sorts where major networks can dump shows that are either cheap to produce or have been shuffled around for one reason or another. This column will explore some of these graveyard shows and seek to explain what their subject matter and broadcast situations say about the state of network television.

Review: Love Bites, "Boys to Men"
(S0107) In art, there’s no accounting for luck. For every author whose works become rise meteorically and become important bestsellers, there are writers like John Kennedy Toole, whose classic A Confederacy of Dunces finally got published a decade after publishers’ rejections drove him to suicide. While some filmmakers get their blockbusters rushed through the studio system, others, like Terry Gilliam, experience a myriad of difficulties in getting funding for their more ambitious projects. Some bands breeze through the recording of hit albums; some go the way of The Beach Boys’ Smile project and never see the light of day.

That’s not to say that Love Bites is a work of art on the level of a Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, but it is one that has had to endure its share of bad luck in finding a place in NBC’s schedule. First, the entire premise of the show (two single girls looking for love in the big city) was re-tooled as an anthology show in the vein of Love, American Style after various cast shuffling and the pregnancy of Becki Newton, the intended lead, whose character had been originally written as a virgin. Then, Cindy Chupack, the creator and showrunner, departed. NBC bumped the show to mid-season, cut back on the show’s episode commitment, and finally dumped it unceremoniously in its summer schedule. Worse yet, the show’s already been cancelled; next week’s will be the final episode to air.

Because of the show’s history, it’s difficult to know just what to make of Love Bites. Despite all the troubles in getting it to air, it’s enjoyed a rotating roster of recognizable guest stars from some of the best shows on television: Jeffrey Tambor (Arrested Development), Ken Jeong (Community), Krysten Ritter (Breaking Bad), Cheryl Hines (Curb Your Enthusiasm), and Craig Robinson (The Office). And, based on tonight’s episode, “Boys to Men,” it’s not an outwardly terrible show, just one that refuses to take any risks.

The episode is divided into three segments, which are linked tangentially by the show’s only three recurring characters: the aforementioned Newton, Greg Grunberg (Heroes) and Constance Zimmer (Entourage). None of the three really factor into any of the stories, which is one of the show’s faults. Grunberg has carved out a welcome presence in his J.J. Abrams-assisted career, and Newton and Zimmer have often been one of the few good things about shows they’ve been on in the past. All three are criminally underused, at least in this episode.

What viewers get instead are a set of predictable stories. The first follows a clingy, recently-heartbroken young man who meets an attractive older woman with relationship problems of her own. In the second, a one-night stand between a sports-obsessed doofus and a young woman in the midst of a family crisis escalates with a series of misunderstandings. Two minutes into the narratives, you can see where each is going. You know the clingy guy will get clingy again, then learn a lesson. You know the two that had a one night stand decide, despite their differences, that they are right for each other. They’re all character beats that you’ve seen a hundred times before, and neither story is injected with enough jokes to make you forget that fact.

The third segment comes closest to getting at something unique, but balks at the last second. A married man expecting his first child (Covert Affairs’ Chris Gorham) begins to have doubts about his future and begins to migrate towards an impossibly beautiful and indie music-savvy receptionist (Izabella Miko, of the not-at-all-missed The Cape). This, too, is a storyline that’s been seen before, but is handled rather deftly throughout. Gorham’s performance in particular is notable, never overselling his character’s doubts (though he isn’t helped by a recurring, unfunny joke about a stuffed giraffe).

But here, too, the show fails to live up to promise. Firstly, it’s not Gorham’s wife who is pregnant; it’s her sister, acting as surrogate. Though a unique twist on the tale, it somewhat lessens the blow of any potential indiscretion on his part. Secondly, when Miko finally comes on to him, he only allows himself a brief fantasy sequence of going through with it, but ultimately decides to stick with his family. Granted, it’s tough to root for someone to cheat on their spouse, but the show simply loses the nerve to do anything out of the ordinary at every possible turn. It’s a harmless show, yes, but one that seems to traffic exclusively in cliche and inaction.

Love Bites’ ultimate fault, however, may lie with airing on the wrong network. NBC currently airs four of the greatest sitcoms of all time (Community, Parks and Recreation, The Office, and 30 Rock), all on the same night, no less, yet still finishes dead last in viewers among the four major networks. While the aforementioned sitcoms garner enough critical acclaim to somewhat offset their bad ratings, more typical sitcom fare, like Outsourced and Perfect Couples (and Love Bites) have struggled to gain any attention. ABC, meanwhile, has the best of both worlds: Modern Family is a critical and commercial hit, and Cougar Town has become a pleasant breakout surprise. On the opposite side of the spectrum from NBC is CBS. Outside of How I Met Your Mother, most of the comedies on the Eye Network don’t get a lot of critical attention (annual nonsensical Emmy nominations be damned), but dominate in the ratings.

If Love Bites had been picked up by, say, CBS, perhaps Love Bites would have made it at least one full season with respectable ratings on a Wednesday or Thursday. Instead, it will go down in television history for committing one lone crime: being a show of middling quality on a network with a history of airing the best comedy television has to offer.

By AndrewCothren

About the author

A writer, photographer, Brooklynite, and fan of all things pop culture. Except cat videos. Those are just a slippery slope.

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1 Comment
On: Friday, July 15, 2011
Eric - TV Geek Army "Revered Leader" said:

It is interesting how network affiliation can bias us (or at least me) heading into a show, but really it must stand up on its own or at least grab the ratings to stay on the air. 

I think Survivor is the only CBS show that I enjoy watching regularly by the way, whereas I eagerly await anything AMC or FX produces (though I'm not a huge fan of every show the latter produces... but they're always interesting and ambitious). 

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