"Every underdog has its day" reads the ad tagline of Undateable, and NBC's newest sitcom seems guaranteed at least three of them. After dumping the first two episodes at the center of its once-grand husk of a Thursday night, the network plans to air another two—less than a binge but more than a snack—at the same time slot for the next two weeks, and then presumably some determination will be made about the series' fate. When a network saves a show till that late-spring dead season traditionally reserved for reruns and reality no-hopers, i's rarely a sign of confidence, but miracles, like the groundswell of critical support that blessed Hannibal with new life last summer, happen every so often.
Undateable, alas, is no Hannibal. The characters are creepier, the signal storyline's less believable, and, somehow, it's far less funny. Since NBC sloughed off the opening hour to middling reviews, we probably wouldn't have even bothered watching the romantic misadventures of Detroit-area oddballs. But Ron Funches plays one of the main character's friends, and the beloved former Portland comic was on screen (and on target) long enough for us to develop a rooting interest in the uneven series' success. Portland pride has certainly led us to waste drearier hours with NBC's late-in-the-week 9 PM programming—cough, Grimm, cough—and, with sitcoms famously hard to judge just out of the gate, we've a handful of reasons to develop a lasting relationship with the show.
It Has Literary Provenance!
Well, sorta. Loosely based on Undateable: 311 Things Guys Do That Guarantee They Won't Be Dating Or Having Sex by Ellen Rakieten and Anne Coyle*, the show's central conceit lies in the pearls of wisdom our apparent hero (and Whitney vet) Chris D'Elia delivers, unasked, to his straight-laced new roommate Brent Morin and to the motley melange of loveless regulars ever present at Morin's bar.
* if a collection of make-out tips was optioned by Warner Brothers, this listicle better rate a movie deal
It Has Multiple Cameras!
With seemingly every modern sitcom wed to the Office-styled single camera format, there's something appealing about a new project indulging the traditional methods of filming an ensemble. After sufficient immersion inside pay cable tastemaker series, even Undateable's laugh track can feel adorably old-fashioned, though canned guffaws aren't any more successful pushing weak gags and unlikable characters than you'd expect. Where the executive producer's former hits (Cougar Town, Spin City, Scrubs) relied upon the leads' natural charisma or accrued audience goodwill to paper over those less palatable personality elements so useful for motivating comedic twists, D'Elia just comes across as an asshole overplaying a moderately successful hand. This may be ideal in actual dating but works rather less well on the small screen.
It Has Detroit!
Set in the Detroit area (though not filmed there), our recession-era rival for the nation's top unemployment figures lays a deep tire print within the first few episodes. Several of the producers come from the area, and, while they perhaps overstress the similarities between a metropolitan hub fallen to economic crisis and schlubs battling poor fashion, it's always nice to see some regional color sneak into mass entertainment.
It Has Funny People!
If there's one reason to believe the series will transcend some rather significant limitations, Undateable appears far less dependent upon its writers' room than the usual sitcom, thanks to a genuinely talented cast of standup comics plucked from the eternal tour who've been given liberty to riff around with their lines. While wringing laughs from wooden dialogue and contrived circumstances isn't exactly the highest art of improvisation, the loosened rhythms of their interplay feel refreshing, and, unlike hack teleplays, that dynamic will only grow stronger with time.
It Has Ron Funches!
Even beyond our interests in propping up a hometown hero done well, Funches' Shelly stands out as about the only recognizable human amidst underdeveloped stock figures and could well serve as a twenty-first century Norm, though the second episode's increased focus upon D'Elia and Morin's roommate dynamic raises worries that the gang of barflies will be pushed further toward the background. In any event, it's a nifty opportunity to market himself for bigger and better projects. Honestly, producers? Fuck Undateable, marry Ron Funches.