Ironic that in a fall season where so many new romantic comedies are fighting for our attention, and maybe even our affection, I'm still waiting to fall in love. Maybe it's the Goldilocks syndrome of being necessarily picky: one's too gimmicky (Manhattan Love Story), one's too generic (A to Z), one's too self-consciously trendy (Selfie), none seems just right.
Last of the batch to arrive, and thankfully not the least, NBC's brash and hyper-verbal farce Marry Me (Tuesday, 9/8c) is at least worth falling in "like" with, especially if your own heart was broken by ABC's cancellation of Happy Endings a year or so ago. That show's executive producer, David Caspe, has cast the funniest female from that ensemble (Saturday Night Live veteran Casey Wilson) — who happens to be his real-life bride — as the maddening Annie, who's her own worst enemy when it comes to her six-year romance with the long-suffering Jake (an endearingly droll Ken Marino).
In an elaborate set piece that opens the show, and establishes the glib tone familiar to all Happy Endings fans — where characters speak in a rat-a-tat-tat banter that only tangentially resembles human conversation — Annie explodes in an epic rant when she imagines Jake is once again postponing her long-awaited marriage proposal. She's wrong, and as Jake witheringly endures her abuse with ring in hand, she is mortified to realize her error. "Cannot joke my way out of this," she concludes.
But she would be wrong, because Marry Me is all about the jokes, a fair percentage of which score. What sets the show apart from the rest of the season's cookie-cutter rom-coms is that it skates past the meet-cute (shown in flashback) to ask us to root for a fractious long-time couple for whom snark heals all self-inflicted wounds. Wilson and Marino are a winning duo, but I'm not sure Annie and Jake's turbulent relationship is enough to sustain a show that lacks distinction in its supporting cast: He has a bearded, overweight buddy (the year's most overdone trope), she has a brittle yoga pal and two gay dads (Dan Bucatinsky and Tim Meadows, who must have started the process in their teens — and way ahead of the gay-adoption curve).
Only JoBeth Williams as Jake's frosty mom truly registers with a strong comic presence, speaking for many of us when she finally explodes after the third or fourth romantic reversal: "Oh God, shut up!" Fat chance of that ever happening. Which may be what that whole "for better or for worse" thing may be all about, after all.