Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Cupid, "The Great Right Hope": It's clobberin' time!

Spoilers for last night's "Cupid" coming up just as soon as I get a car that runs on eggshells...
"It's so nice to see you finally have a chemistry with someone!" -Claire's mom
"There's no chemistry!" -Claire
Well, if they're gonna make it that easy for me to review the episode...

This review's going to be heavy on comparisons to the original show for two reasons: first because the premise is vaguely similar to one of the best episodes of the original show, second because at this point I feel like my only reason to keep watching is the deep reservoir of affection I have for the old show, and my hope that the new one could eventually be more like it. If you didn't watch and/or don't care about comparisons the original, you want to skip this one.

The old "Cupid" had two things going for it. Most obvious was the white-hot chemistry between Jeremy Piven and Paula Marshall, who were so good together -- and so funny together -- that the show could get away on occasion with devoting entire acts to nothing but Trevor and Claire bantering. But almost as important were those moments of magic between the couple of the week, those declarations of love or discoveries that made the show feel like something much more than just a '90s version of "The Love Boat." I'm talking about the linguist dropping his cultured accent to quote Springsteen at his blue-collar lady love, or the dancer and his wife rekindling their passion while sashaying through a natural history museum exhibit, or, of course, Trevor's "perfect match" turning out to be about organ donation and not romance.

So far, I'm not getting either of those things from the new show. Bobby Cannavale and Sarah Paulson are on screen together so rarely, and given so little banter, that I honestly have no idea how much chemistry they might have if the episodes were being structured like the original, where Trevor and Claire always were more prominent than the couple of the week. And when we do see them alone together, like in the episode's final scene, Paulson sometimes plays Claire's dislike of Trevor too strongly. (You could see how much effort it was for her to be polite to Trevor, even after he'd been nice to her.) Any suggestion, as Claire's mom made, that they might be a couple, seems there only because that's what's expected from the show, not because of anything the two stars have shown to date.

Meanwhile, the writing of the couples hasn't been much stronger. We somehow made it more than 15 minutes into "The Great Right Hope" before Lee Tergesen and Constance Zimmer actually got to talk to each other on camera; there was a lot of "tell, don't show" before that, with the kid and Trevor watching them from afar and discussing what was happening between the two. I'd have been fine with that pacing if the early screen time had gone to Trevor and Claire, but instead it felt like someone (my guess is the network) wanted to make sure the audience thoroughly understood the backstory and the conflict before the guest stars shared a real scene, and so we had to waste a lot of time on exposition.

And while there were some nice moments, particularly Tergesen playing the dad's reaction to finding out this boy he liked so much was the son he never knew existed, we never got that magic moment I was hoping for. There was an opportunity to do something cool with the documentary the mom had made, but instead it played like a campaign ad for Tergesen's first bid for Congress.

Given that the ratings make it unlikely this "Cupid" will be around next season, and my nostalgia for the original, I might as well ride the train to the end. But three weeks in, I'm still waiting for a bead to move.

What did everybody else think?


Karen said...

We watched the first episode, and eh, it was okay - in general we like Cannavale and were big, big fans of Veronica Mars, so we wanted to give it a try. But - eh. Plus I think it's on against Rescue Me, which we set the VCR for (although in fact I can't remember when Cupid is actually on)? Anyway, it just didn't do it for us enough to keep watching. (We would have had the same reaction to Castle except that we love the Fillion - so we watch it each week despite it's not-goodness.)

Brandy said...

I don't have as much disdain for it as you do. I did love the original but it's been years since I've seen it's easy to put it behind me.

I've never clicked wit Paulson on Studio 60, which has other problems, but Paulson was the reason I quit watching before the end of the season.

I expected to hate her here. And in the first couple of episodes, I didn't. This episode? I kind of did.

But the show has smart funny moments and given the lack of options Tuesday at 9 (I'm central) it'll stick on my Tivo.

Cannavale is pretty good. Not Piven, but good. Wish there was better casting to play off of him, though.

As for the Castle comparison. I think it's a better show than this iteration of Cupid. Great? Not a chance. But I have no expectations for it so I'm never disappointed by it.

I never assumed Castle would be great. I wanted this one to be. So it's harder to stick this one out, I think.

Karen said...

"its," I mean.

StvMg said...

The original version of Cupid is one of my favorite shows of all time, but my mind has wandered each time I've tried to sit through an episode of this new version.

As long as we're doing the Castle references, the chemistry between the two leads on that show is more reminiscent of Jeremy Piven and Paula Marshall than anything this show has offered.

It doesn't seem as though they've touched on Cupid's background and how much it means to him to put these couples together anywhere near as much as they did in the original version.

And even though I've liked some of the guest stars (Constance Zimmer, Marguerite Moreau), I haven't been invested in any of the couples of the week.

Anonymous said...

The Zimmer/Tergesen story had the overearnestness I recall from the original, and I don't mean that in a bad way. But this should have gone down as a loss in Cupid's books. Having Zimmer realize Tergesen's a good guy but not a good guy for her would have allowed the story to be cut a little shorter and it would have tempered the overearnestness with a somber recognition that sometimes things don't work out between couples, no matter how much you (or your son) might want it to. That mix of tones was what I liked about the original, which I always thought managed to be sappy and serious at the same time.

Cutting the romance story short would also have allowed for more Claire/Trevor time. I don't need Claire and Trevor to have chemistry -- in fact, I prefer it, since I find the whole "will they or won't they" storyline stale -- but I do need them to argue about what's going on. Is it right to matchmake? Are these two people really right for each other? Are you (Cupid) pushing too much or are you (Claire) pushing too little? In the original all those arguments felt like a light commentary on how romantic comedies work from people who really enjoyed romantic comedies. The closest this episode came to any of that was the "Let's go visit Hector" sequence. And it just wasn't enough.

Alan Sepinwall said...

I don't need Claire and Trevor to have chemistry -- in fact, I prefer it, since I find the whole "will they or won't they" storyline staleSee, but there are different kinds of chemistry besides will-they-won't-they. Piven and Marshall worked well as a comedy team even when there wasn't the question of whether they should be ripping each other's clothes off. I barely get a sense that Cannavale and Paulson are in the same show.

Anonymous said...

Off Topic Note: Alan I really wish you would review Castle. I think it's as good if not better than Leverage with lots of pop, amusement, character development who cannot LOVE Nathan Fillion hamming it up during a laser tag fight, and you gave Heroes tons of weeks of time after you'd thoroughly gotten disgusted with it.

And it gives a nice murder mystery to explore every week withOUT the grimy science blab- it's not trying to be more than what it is. To me that's refreshing.



Anonymous said...

Piven and Marshall worked well as a comedy team even when there wasn't the question of whether they should be ripping each other's clothes off. I didn't mean to suggest otherwise. In fact, I agree entirely, and my point was that I just don't see why the banter (which is distinct from sexual chemistry) has been cut from the show. Both Cannavale and Paulson have shown they have some feel for material in a similar spirit (in The Station Agent and Down with Love, respectively), but they aren't being given anything to work with on Cupid. Like you say, they're barely ever even in the same room, and I think that's odd.

The even odder thing is that the lack of banter I'm complaining about on Cupid is something Party Down has in spades. The "pancake lady" speech from last week could easily have gone into a Cupid script, and a paean to Jim Abbott could have improved "The Great Right Hope".

Unknown said...

Huh. I'm apparently the only one who liked it. I liked Marshall as a mini-Cupid, I liked the twists in this one and how that worked. I liked the final "he's gay, that's why he's so into boxing" revelation. I thought the "OMG HE'S A REPUBLICAN" was overdone, but need some kind of conflict, I suppose. I'd like to see Marshall back as a protege for Trevor.

But yeah, New Trevor and New Claire are charisma-free. I kinda liked New Trevor more in this one, but I suspect I just don't think Sarah Paulson can make charisma or much personality, period.

Not so fond of the "Claire's mom is a lovestruck idiot" plot, either.

Byron Hauck said...

Man, if you had given this script to the original show? That would have been a hell of an episode. It makes me sad how mediocre the actual result was.

Kensington said...

If this mediocre facsimile results in a DVD release of the original, then it will all have been worth it.

If the end result, however, is a DVD set of this version only, I'll bang my head against the wall.

LA said...

I've never seen the original, so I have no basis for comparison. That said, Sarah Paulson is brutally murdering this show. Not only does she have no chemsitry with Bobby Cannavale (who is great in everything he does), she has no charisma whatsoever. Did she have some contract with the network that needed fulfillment? Do she and Cannavale despise each other off-screen? Because there has to be some explanation for the epic failure against Bobby; in everything else I've seen him in, he elevates all of his co-stars with his charm.

Taleena said...

This is the third show I am watching based on the charm of the leading men almost solely. The other two being Nathan Fillion and Simon Baker. I stopped comparing it to the Piven/Marshall incarnation after the first episode and am happier for it.

Anonymous said...

I blame Paulson. I loved the original too and I think Piven and Marshall made it soooooo wonderful. But I liked the premise a lot and think good actors with good chemistry could have made it work: which is why they should have gone with someone like Kimberly Williams-Paisley who I think would have clicked better with a Cannavale. That and the fact that a blonde Paulson doesn't work on any level for me; or maybe its the weight loss. Somehow, she's far more unappealing here than she was on Studio 60 where it was a hit miss type thing but Perry was carrying her for the most part.

Kensington said...

Wow, I totally agree that Kimberly Williams might have been a vast improvement over Paulson.

Oh, well, c'est la vie.

Unknown said...

For something enjoyable and undemanding to unwind with at the end of the day, I like it. It's not great art but it hasn't cheated on me yet.

And it's much better than The Love Boat.

amitytv said...

I'm going to have to agree with LA and Anon up there about Paulson. She doesn't seem to have any chemistry with Cannavale. He, on the other, really seems like he is trying. I probably won't stick with this show much longer either,
I WILL be watching Castle for a while. Nathan Fillion is great in everything he does. And he and his costar DO seem to have good chemistry. The writing is decent, as long as you give it a mulligan here or there.

blinda said...

Eh. I can't seem to get into the show. It's not terrible, it's all right, but kind of dull and a very average typical 'Miss Match' type show overall. I hate to throw in the towel early, but I think this is it for me.

I'll show my support for Rob Thomas by watching the vastly more entertaining Party Down instead.

OnceADaydream said...

Sarah Paulson's character on Cupid reminds me of Andi on Chuck - always beotchin' & moanin' about everything. Hated her on Studio 60 (which I really did like when she wasn't on). I think there DOES need some chemistry on Cupid, and they haven't got it. It's a little escape show for me, but I don't see it lasting.

Castle, though, we love. Love Nathan Fillion, love the playful-case-solving vibe.

Anna said...

I haven't seen the episode yet, but, wow, they remade "heart of the matter" already??

And, jennilynn, who is "Andi" on Chuck? Do you mean his sister (whose name is Ellie)?

Zack Smith said...

Meh. I'll watch the rest out of curiosity and hopes of improvement, but this isn't working.

Your points are dead-on. The trouble with this, beyond the ghost of the original, seems to be 1) ABC's mandate that there be more focus on the couple-of-the-week, and 2)the lack of chemistry between the leads.

Sarah Paulson is a good dramatic actress, but she doesn't quite fit in these romantic comedy roles. I was flipping through Kristen Chenowith's autobiography because I am obsessed with the sheer weirdness of her and Aaron Sorkin's relationship, and there was a lovely bit where she provided a dead-on explanation of why Harriet Hayes didn't work.

Every couple-of-the-week so far has been a really charming pair of actors, but the use of only-happy endings reduces the storylines to trite romantic comedy. There's no question of IF they'll wind up together, just what contrivance can extend the plot for another 20 minutes.

The original might have been lightning in a bottle. Can we at least get some DVDs?

Word Verification: reeks. Hey! Another real word!

LoopyChew said...

One of the things I've noticed in this episode in particular and perhaps was in previous episodes was that, at the very least, there was a crapload of edits from one talking head to another during the initial exchange between Trevor, Claire, and Claire's mom meeting at the wine tasting. From what I remember of the original series, some of the better scenes were extended takes of the two of them bantering, no need for cuts. I'm pretty sure the Flaherty's act from "End of an Eros" was done on fewer takes than the wine tasting scene in this episode, and the latter was probably half or a third as long as the former. That takes proper chemistry between the two leads, something this incarnation seems to lack.

I don't know if it the dialogue between the two was edited to hell (I liked last ep's scene with them yelling at each other post-title card) or if they simply had to try and make a usable scene from multiple takes, but yow does it show.

I'm hoping that this show brings the old one to DVD, but I'll go through the rest of this season for the sake of Rob Thomas.

LoopyChew said...

Also, after watching the pilots of both versions, my mom prefers Cannavale as Trevor but Marshall as Claire.

Tracey said...

It should tell you something about my lack of affection for this show that I completely forgot that it was on. My DVR recorded it, and it was flashing that there was a new recording. I was surprised to find it, but I did watch it.

I freely admit, I'm a sap, so yes, I admit that I liked the romance thing. There were certainly parts of it that made me cringe -- some of the ugliest stereotypes of liberals and conservatives at the party, particularly, though at least they hit both sides equally. But (possibly because I am an adoptee) I liked the storyline of the kid looking for his birth father, trying to fix him up with his lonely single mother, the fact that they had one very significant difference. And I liked the idea that the liberal mother's knee-jerk reaction to hearing her son called a fairy was to insist that he's not gay, while the conservative father's reaction was to help him deal with being harassed about it. I thought the episode was good... but it wasn't Cupid good. It simply wasn't remotely at the level of the Piven/Marshall original.

When I was trying to get people to watch the original Cupid, I often compared it to Moonlighting. That show was really about the Shepard/Willis banter; the mystery of the week was mostly an excuse to put the two together and get them talking. The original Cupid was the same: the romances were mostly an excuse to put Claire and Trevor together and get them arguing about love and romance. That's what made the series so much fun, and it's simply not here.

Another thing the original series did well was walk the line between whether Trevor was actually Cupid or not. In this series, I have never ever had the slightest sense that he was anything other than a lunatic, albeit a mostly harmless one.

It is absolutely painful every time a character talks about the chemistry between Claire and Trevor, because there just isn't any. It doesn't ring true at all, and you can't create chemistry by telling us it's there.

And they're just being completely sloppy with the production. I almost never catch continuity flaws, but I was ready to scream during the scene where Claire's umbrella kept moving from shoulder to shoulder. And once again we have a case of mystery genetics, where two blue-eyed parents produce a brown-eyed kid. You know, casting directors used to be much more careful about that sort of thing.

But yeah, I'll keep watching it, mostly out of affection for the original, and I'll join Kensington in hoping that it leads to a DVD release of the original.

BigTed said...

After all the facile talk about differences between liberals and conservatives, I thought they skipped over what would have been the key question under the circumstances: What does Tergesen's character think about the issue of gay marriage?

james said...

Here's a list of problems I have with this show, including this particular episode:

One major problem I had with this last episode was Cupid's lack of confidence and knowledge on what he was doing. Sure he was confident with the kid but taking tips from the bartender? He even seems to be unsure if he's Cupid, God of Love.

Additionally, I hate when a show has the character tell you something. For example, Clair's mother banging us over the head that there's supposed to be a romantic attraction between her daughter and Cupid. If you can't show us then don't bother insulting us.

Another major problem with this new Cupid are poor supporting characters. In the last series you had a great cast of regulars who would show up at the Singles Meeting. Aside from providing comic humor, they served as different commentaries on dating. It was very much a social commentary on the status of dating. This remake lacks both.

I still have major issues with Clair but at least in this episode she acted professionally. I know it's only the 3rd episode but she comes off as an air head. Despite the little warming up I did in this episode I thought they ended the episode on a sour note. Instead of sharing dinner she should have kicked Cupid out.

I've never been to New York so I can't comment on if they capture the city's flair.

Karen said...

I decided to give Cupid one more chance, and I can safely say that this was not the episode to save it. I laughed out loud when I saw your quotes at the top of the review, Alan, because when those lines were spoken on-camera I was gobsmacked by the utter lack of self-awareness they represented.

I had a lot of goodwill on hand when I saw Constance Zimmer (I loved her as the nun on Joan of Arcadia) and Lee Tergesen.

The story line kind of creeped me out--the notion that political differences just boil down to whom one votes for, rather than a different set of closely-held values, so it shouldn't matter romantically if one's right and one's left.

But everything about this felt wrong. Even the sappy After School Special music that underscored all the "important" moments in the episode. That "documentary" was so cheesy I couldn't believe it was supposed to be done by a professional. It all felt so artificial and cliched and no one saved it. Not one performance.

Meanwhile, speaking of Castle, it's not a particularly good show, either, since I can tell what's going to happen at every turn, but, as the Karen at the top noted, I love the Fillion. And I think that there IS actual chemistry between Fillion and Stana Katic. They need to build up the secondary characters better (as, say, has been done on The Mentalist, where I love Tim Kang almost as much as I love Simon Baker, but they're on a good track.

@Zack Smith, don't tease us! What DID Chenoweth say about why Harriet Hayes didn't work??

Nicole said...

I am starting to fear that even if they did increase the screen time between Trevor and Claire that we wouldn't get half the chemistry that Piven and Marshall did.

The comparisons to Castle - Fillion and his co-star - are spot on, because their chemistry is exactly why I bother to watch another procedural, and it's reminiscent of Marshall and Piven, who had instant chemistry, and it wasn't all "romance"..

The love story was okay, although the whole Republican/ Democrat thing was tired, especially as political foes James Carville and Mary Matalin have made it work, with politics playing a much more central part in their lives. The broadest stereotypes were being applied to both sides and I was cringing.

Unfortunately, I can't undo watching the original, and so the comparisons will continue unless there is a drastic change in the chemistry or episode structure.

filmcricket said...

Another thing the original series did well was walk the line between whether Trevor was actually Cupid or not. In this series, I have never ever had the slightest sense that he was anything other than a lunatic, albeit a mostly harmless one.Tracey, I think you've put your finger on the problem I have too - aside from Paulsen, who, as everyone else is pointing out, is not cut out of this kind of comedy. (And I'd also like to hear Chenoweth's analysis.)

Cannavale is charming and more conventionally attractive than Piven, but he is not projecting the supreme confidence in his own omnipotence one would expect from a god. Unsurprisingly, Piven was very good at that; perhaps more surprisingly, he was able to be likeable at the same time.

I didn't love Marshall in the original - I always thought she was too mannered - but she had fire and snap, which Paulsen totally lacks. New Claire seems to really dislike Trevor at times, as opposed to thinking him an amusing lunatic.

I give this episode credit for attempting to tackle more potential romance obstacles in one hour than the original ever did, but at the same time it felt kind of overstuffed. It felt like one hot-button issue could have been dropped to let the others breathe.

Mark B said...

After all the facile talk about differences between liberals and conservatives, I thought they skipped over what would have been the key question under the circumstances: What does Tergesen's character think about the issue of gay marriage?

The whole point of the story was that their views on political issues were irrelevant to the relationship!

(You're also assuming the Zimmer character must automatically support same-sex marriage by virtue of her party.)

Jeff Metzner said...

I worry that having this version means we'll never get the original on DVD because either the new version is a success and ABC won't want it diluted by the original version, or it's a failure and they won't want to be embarrassed by how much better the original is.

Anonymous said...

Still feeling iffy about the show, but it's got redeeming points (I find the current actors more convincing in their roles than the ones in the original series, although the chemistry needs to develop). I think the show could be improved simply by lowering the hostility between Claire and Trevor and allowing them to work together more often than apart, thereby closing the distance between their story and the romance-of-the-week.

I still think Claire should be more subtle, less direct in her interactions with Trevor; she should have taken his "delusion" at his word and monitored it with observation instead of trying to dispel the delusion so aggressively. With any luck, the show will be given the chance to clean itself up. The ratings aren't fantastic, but they aren't the worst--yet.

Tracey said...

@BigTed: I dunno, I think they adequately addressed the gay issue. They made it clear that he knew the boy was gay, and he didn't have a problem with it -- in fact, it appeared that the conservative was more comfortable with it than the liberal mother. No, they didn't mention gay marriage, but the boy's a little young for that, isn't he?

Eldritch said...

After seeing so much said about "Cupid" here, I finally caught an episode, the boy boxer one. I'm surprised how lackluster the entire show is. After seeing Cannevale in "Station Agent," I'm very disappointed at how toned down his performance is. He's lost that energetic, friendly puppy dog demeanor he had in the movie, which seems like just what "Cupid" needs.

I didn't find its supporting characters stood out from the blandness either. In "Bones," Angela, Hodgins, and Camille are all vivid, not so the "Cupid" supporting cast. But then they really didn't have much to do.

I did like the boy and his mother and the combined paternity-and-gay plot lines for them. But they won't be back.

As for Paulson, I've liked her in other things, so perhaps that's why I'm cutting her some slack after only one episode.

But it doesn't strike me that there's much reason to watch a 2nd episode.

spiderpig said...

I actually liked this one. I'm happy that Constance Zimmer gets to be on TV even if it's a guest spot. And I liked the way they handled the gay "twist" if you want to call it that. And I even could appreciate the chemistry between Cannavale and Paulson. I think they do play nicely off each other, especially when they were walking in the snow to Claire's mom's apartment to kick out her ex-lover. Cannavale's "mean face" was hilarious.

When I saw Anna Chlumsky's name in the credits and thought she might be part of the romantic subplot but I was surprised to see her as Claire's assistant. Poor Vada. I hope she gets more lines in upcoming episodes.

I'm going to throw it out there and say that my ultimate guest star wish would be Peter Dinkalage (Cannavale's co-star from The Station Agent). He was great on 30 Rock and I think he'd be a good romantic match for someone on this show too.

Tracey said...

Ooo... good catch, Spiderpig! I completely missed Anna Chlumsky!

Are they going out of their way to remind us of the original series? She was in the funniest episode they ever did: the Halloween one, where the guys try to accumulate the most rejections. She was a teenager who ran away from home to be with her older boyfriend, but she didn't even have his contact information.

Alan Sepinwall said...

For those still reading the comments at this point, ABC is bumping next week's episode in favor of auditioning "The Unusuals" after "Dancing with the Stars" (a second "Unusuals" will air in its usual timeslot).

Given the ratings, that, to me, signals that ABC is more or less washing its hands of "Cupid" and wants to see if another show might do better after "Dancing" for next season.

jcpdiesel21 said...

This was my last episode of this show. I lost interest halfway through and started multitasking instead of watching what was happening. The concept of the show is really clever and neat, but I'm just not feeling the show as a whole. There is a definite lack of chemistry between Sarah Paulson and Bobby Cannavale at this point.

The only thing that this show has done is given me a hankering to see the original version on DVD, since it sounds like it was pulled off so much better.