Cristin Milioti, Ben Feldman
A to Z creator Ben Queen won't share what will happen to Andrew and Zelda after eight months on his new NBC comedy, but he can guarantee one thing.
"I can promise she won't die," Queen tells TVGuide.com. "Cristin [Milioti] is a delight. I want to keep her around."
Milioti — who is "very flattered" by the outrage at her How I Met Your Mother fate — plays Zelda, the "Z" to Andrew's (Ben Feldman) "A" on the comedy (premieres Thursday, 9:30/8:30c). She's a tough-as-nails lawyer who doesn't believe in love. He's a heart-on-his-sleeve hopeless romantic who sings Celine Dion in the car and is convinced that he saw Zelda in a silver dress at a party two years ago. "They will date for eight months, three weeks, five days and one hour," omniscient narrator Katey Sagal tells us. "This television program is the comprehensive account of their relationship from A to Z."
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The almost-too-clever set-up sounds like
(500) Days of How I Met Your Mother
, which is fine with Queen as a shorthand. "I see the comparisons. I don't mind it," he says. "But I think once we get going on the air, hopefully people will see we're doing a different thing." For one, he declines to confirm if Andrew and Zelda actually break up after eight months, since, say, an engagement technically marks the end of them "dating" too. "
(500) Days of Summer
, you know it ends badly. It's slightly more cryptic here," he teases. "They could get married, they could get engaged." And secondly, he had never actually seen HIMYM
before he wrote and pitched A to Z
."I have to claim ignorance on this," Queen admits. "I didn't really watch the show before I started writing this. But once I had turned the pilot in and people were mentioning it, I went back and watched a ton of it, and it's a f---ing great show. It's a wonderful show.We hired some of their writers too. There's a similar sensibility, but single-cam is different from multi-cam. There's also a huge difference between when is Ted going to find that girl to the relationship stuff here. Sure, that girl is Cristin, but..."He continues: "My general feeling was a TV season is all about generating conflict so you can do stories. To me, that aspect from when you meet somebody to the time when you have to make a commitment or break up is fraught with really interesting stories. So it felt like a really good season of television. Naming it after the alphabet seemed like a fun organizational structure. It also felt sweet and perfect for a show."If you looked up "squee" in the dictionary, there'd probably, or should, be a photo of A to Z
. It's cute, quirky, silly, whimsical with the same floating-on-air lightness that comes with falling head over heels in love. That it actually gets the pairing out of the way in the pilot is what Queen, Feldman and Milioti hope sets their self-professed "relationship comedy" — not just romantic comedy — apart from other shows."So many shows are will-they-won't-they. Oh, my God, are they gonna get together?' That's sort of the entire series. We're not concerned with that," Feldman says. "We get together in the first episode and it's like, 'OK, this is a relationship and this is what really happens.' It's the work that goes into building a foundation for a relationship. I wasn't super into being in a comedy ... but this felt different and kind of special to the kind of comedy pilots I had been used to reading."For Milioti — who has never seen (500) Days
and ironically did not notice the similarities between HIMYM
and A to Z
until they were pointed out to her — it's Andrew and Zelda's opposing views on fate and romance that attracted her to and what she thinks drives the series.
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"He's very sure of it and she puts a lot of walls up and he's very persistent in knocking them down," she says. "Zelda has some things to hide. You find that out over the season. He's no angel either, to quote Beyoncé. I always think it's fascinating to see how two people learn to be a team. It's hard. She's outside of her comfort zone. I do think it could fill HIMYM
's void. It's examining a relationship that's in full swing, which I think is an interesting take. It's so wonderful, but it can also be so scary to fall in love and the process of letting each other into each other's lives is not only extremely relatable, but also hilarious."Things will get hard for Andrew and Zelda "right away," Queen says, but that doesn't mean their honeymoon period will be over. "I've been married 10 years and we have a great relationship, but nothing compares to those first few months," he says. "But that doesn't mean there's no work involved. I've had people say to me, 'If it's really working, it shouldn't be hard.' And I don't think that's true. A true conflict brings growth. The great thing about Ben and Cristin is they're so great together. They're enjoying each other's company and they just fall into that rhythm. It's like you meet someone and you fall together and fit."Feldman and Milioti's off-the-charts chemistry is so effortless that you're going to 'ship them in real life. They rib each other like an old married couple and are not afraid to air each other's
delicious little secrets. "Cristin has started eating prop food," Feldman reveals. "If there's a scene involving food, she has them hold onto the food and bring it to her later.""Who told you that? Feldman?" Milioti says. "Yes, I do eat the prop food. The other day, there was a scene where we get Thai takeout, so we had all this delicious Thai food in front of us. ... I don't want it to go to waste, so I asked if I could eat the noodles! Then I hid some of the spring rolls in the pocket of my chair and then someone threw them away, probably because they found food in the pocket of a chair. It wasn't like bouncing around in there. They were wrapped in plastic. ... Our prop lady, Rose, now she always knows to set aside a platter of food. She's like, 'Do you want this on your chair?' ... We had a big scene with a spread of every one of my favorite foods and I got my hands on most of them.""Trust me," Queen says, "I know how lucky I am to have found these two."Neither Feldman nor Milioti know what Queen's plan is for "Z" (each episode is titled after a letter of the alphabet) — and they don't want to. "Listen, I thought we were [definitely] breaking up!" she says. "From an acting standpoint, it's good not to know." Adds Feldman: "We don't ask. You don't want it to inform you and [to] start playing it. We could break up and next season is Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson playing us. Season 2's gonna be a lot more bleak and dark."
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Queen already has an idea of what Season 2 would look like. And no, McConaughey and Harrelson (and Vince Vaughn and Colin Farrell) will not be part of it. "Season 2 would still be about Andrew and Zelda. It will not be another couple," he says. "I like the fun of an audience seeing how it unfolds as one story. I know where I want it go and it's consistent with the tone with the pilot. I cannot promise that I won't cut Ben's nipple off
though."See why A to Z
made our Fall TV Editors' Picks:
A to Z
premieres Thursday at 9:30/8:30c on NBC.