Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Cupid, "My Fair Masseuse": Baby, we were born to run?

ABC snuck the finale of the "Cupid" remake onto the schedule tonight. If you cared, hopefully you still had a DVR season pass like I did and caught it. (If not, have fun grappling with the player.) Some thoughts on the finale, and the remake as a whole, coming up just as soon as I fix a sink...

If, like me, you were a fan of the original "Cupid," then you figured out pretty quickly that "My Fair Masseuse" was a remake of the Piven show's second episode, "The Linguist." This was part of ABC's attempt to keep the budget down, as Rob Thomas got paid less to rewrite his own script than he would have to write a brand-new one. But I give Rob credit for putting in an effort on a job he could have coasted through. Other than the bit about the linguist fixing his freshman roommate's sink -- specifically, the line "I grew up smaht in a paht of town where smaht got yer ass kicked" -- there wasn't much in the way of recycled dialogue, and the relationship took several different twists before ending up in the same place as the original. I'll still take Tim DeKay as my reformed Southie linguist, but I had fun watching this.

In fact, there was probably more recycling going on in the other borrowed plot from the original series, as Claire mistakenly came to believe that Trevor was a college professor who had slept with a student and gone nuts when the girl overdosed on sleeping pills. That's from the original pilot, and was one of the things whose absence from the new pilot was emblematic of one of the fundamental problems with the remake: too much of the Couple of the Week, not enough of Trevor and Claire.

The series had started to course correct on that in the last few episodes in early May. I kept meaning to write about "Left of the Dial," the previous original episode, and never did, but it was the first one that felt like it could have fit in comfortably with the original series.

By then, of course, it was too late. The show was already dead with ABC -- was, I'm guessing, dead within a week or two of its debut, in fact, based on the numbers and whatever was going on between the network and Thomas. (He hints about the problems in his answer to the question about working with Starz in the interview I did with him about "Party Down.") But let's leave the ratings, and the backstage drama, aside, and very quickly ask ourselves why the new "Cupid" didn't work at first, and whether, in a more patient, forgiving world, it might have been able to right itself.

Problem #1: Not enough Trevor and Claire. I have to assume this was a network push -- that someone at ABC felt the show's chief appeal was the matchmaking, and not the banter. But however well-executed those stories might have been (and they weren't always that great), it left viewers with no real hook to watch from week to week. The balance shifted a bit in the final episodes, so maybe that's a fight Thomas could have eventually won, had the ratings been better.

Problem #2: Not enough Trevor/Claire chemistry. This is a tougher problem to fix. Bobby Cannavale and Sarah Paulson were both fine on their own (though Paulson at times struggled to elevate Claire above her usual brittle WASP type), but the spark unfortunately wasn't there between them. You can't fake that.

Problem #3: Too much audience hand-holding. Again, I'm guessing this was from ABC, based on how so many of their other shows roll, with the hateful Please Laugh Now music and the way characters on all their series need to constantly monologue about their motivation for doing anything. I never felt like the romances had a chance to breathe, as we had to spend half of each storyline with the characters delivering exposition to Trevor. Part of this, I think, can also be pinned on Thomas and the other writers, who for some reason chose to build most of the episodes around two people with an established history who hadn't quite fallen in love yet. (It always felt like watching a play that began with the second act.)

I was probably harder on a couple of the episodes than I should have been, just based on my frustration with it not being as perfect as the original show. But "Cupid" 2.0 was, at best, flawed but sometimes entertaining, and I don't know that it could have ever risen above the chemistry problem. But I feel better about having watched it at the end than I suspected I would at the beginning.

What did everybody else think?


Blair Waldorf said...

That last one wasn't too bad. Debi was adorable and Walter was cool too.

There were a lot of good things going on in this series but the main problems were, as you pointed out, the lack of time with the leads and the lack of chemistry. They were awful together. I really didn't understand sometimes why Claire spent time with Trevor given her apparent dislike for him. And he adorably flirted with her but it was always like he was flirting with a brick wall.

Cannavale was really entertaining though. I hope we see him again soon.

Oaktown Girl said...

ZOMG! Can you please put up a post for that fabulous new blog banner? (Must...discuss!)

Zack Smith said...

Alan, one thing that bugs me about a lot of shows right now, particularly on ABC, is the way they're structured to have an extra "act." It used to be there was a teaser, followed by four "acts" that made up the show. Now there's a long first act, followed by five other acts of varying lengths. CUPID 2.0 broke this up a bit by having a teaser, card, then opener, but some ABC shows go nearly 15 minutes before listing the cast, writers, etc. On their sitcoms, it comes off as a four-act structure.

The problem with this is that with only about 42 minutes of airtime, it reduces many middle acts to 6-7 minutes. In some cases, almost nothing happens to advance the plot between commercial breaks!

Thomas has talked about how part of the fun of the original CUPID were the long, banter-filled acts. I miss that.

ABC shows in particular feel defined by large casts and monologue-filled sequences (FOX is defined by "tense" scenes and music, while CBS is pure exposition, CW is copulating white teenagers and NBC doesn't know what the hell it is). Obviously, budgets are tight and ads need to be sold, but the pacing on most network TV shows feels choppy and abrupt, particularly on ABC -- and that just makes me want to watch DVDs or streaming video, where there's only ONE ad for every break.

Excellent analysis. You reviews of flat shows are still worth reading consistently, because you have such good insight into why something DOESN'T work.

ngeunit1 said...

Like most of the episodes I felt this episode did a good job making the guest characters (couple of the week) interesting and likable. I think there is something to be said about a show that consistently delivers with some quality story line, while still allowing the viewer to walk away feeling happy and satisfied, but not belittled.

The major problem with the show, agreeing with your point #3, that it was difficult to both create a story between the couples that was deep and interesting, and at the same time let the romance happen. I'm not sure whether the problem was that it was too daunting a task or if Rob wasn't up to it (I think it was the first personally). But there were some episodes, at least in my point of view, this was done very well (example "Left of the Dial").

Overall, I enjoyed watching the few episodes that were made even if it was kinda a guilty pleasure.

me said...

I kinda wish shows would stop using Boston accents, unless they really think they can hit it.

The Southie accent wasn't bad, but the attitude wasn't there. I just rewatched the Cupid 1.0 version, and I heard the opposite. The attitude was good, but the accent wasn't quite there.

Of course, others may disagree.

LA said...

Darn, I deleted it off my season psas. I guess I'll try later this week.

Unknown said...

I almost prefer this version to the Linguist.

It still suffered from certain flaws. The whole failure to catch the three way calling was a little silly, and how is it in the age of Google they can't find one picture Anthony Russo, Ranier College?

Especially one that had some sort of scandal.

That being said I'm glad they got rid of the 35 year old virgin thing. I realise it was well before Carell, but post Carell it just wouldn't fly.

I went back and read your review of the linguist and you pointed out how this was one of the more anthologistic episodes of the first run, (which is probably why he rewrote this one.)

I also can't help wondering though if part of the reason why I liked is that he did play so well of the original episode. I laughed pretty loud when I realised Rob reversed the fancy dinner scene from the linguist and that he's
the wait staff this time.

Going back to your list of reasons why this didn't work, I realised just how quickly Cupid 1.0 deviated from the formula of matchmaking.

Pilot and linguist were pretty close to the unknown couple getting together bit. Then in episode 3 you had a married couple who were falling out of love, Episode 4 Trevor fails, 5 while still having a couple is very different from the the formula and 6 also doesn't really have a central couple to match.

The fact that by episode 6 you could do an episode like Meet Market where you could play with the support group while in this version I couldn't tell you if any of these guys stay for more than one episode says something as to why it doesn't quite work as well.

As for the chemistry, I really hate to say it, because Neil Patrick Harris certainly shows that a gay actor can play a straight role, but After this and Studio 60 I wonder if Paulson does have trouble playing straight.

I can't remember if it was either here or on TWOP, but a lot of people commented about how in the Pilot Paulson was showing much better chemistry with the female guest star than she was with Cannavale.

Am I correct in thinking that Castle is the only show ABC renewed this year outside of their existing standards? It's funny because even though Stana Katic is way to young and Nathan Fillion is too classically leading man-ish to work in the role, they could certainly play Claire and Trevor with a better working chemistry that you could sort overlook the flaws.

I realise this is probably very disjointed but I'm currently awake due a bad back so i apologise if this is gibberish.

Chuck Nottheshow said...

Loved the original show, never thought this one had a chance because of the pretty obvious (to me--what makes me think Alan and loyal readers here could program a kick-ass network?) lack of chemistry between Cannavale (saw him play "romantic-mystery-comedy" on Lipstick Jungle last year and based on that thought this was beyond his range) and Paulson (whom I just do not get--brittle is a good description for whatever role she's in--not quite grating, but also not someone you'd go out of your way to spend time with) doomed a show which has to live on the charm of it's leads. I also should admit I have a huge crush on Paula Marshall, so...anyway, time and money best spent elsewhere.

@ Marquis--I feel you on the back. Radiological injections (steroids to decrease swelling in the nerve root) saved me. Maybe that could help?

Mapeel said...

The lack of chemistry is so glaring, it's very hard to understand who thought they would work. Was casting in Rob's hands? It's sad to see so much good creative energy go into something fundamentally doomed.

Mr. Guilt said...

We watched the original pilot right after this episode, and the difference was striking. While there were some things to like about the new series (mariachi karaoke most notably), it was really lacking relative to the original. It was "Sports Night" versus "According to Jim."

Having watched her in both "Studio 60" and this, I'm convinced that Sarah Paulson's chemistry is the same as nitrogen: completely inert.

One other thing: the original was set in Chicago; the new one, I believe, New York. I think it made it Yet Another Generic New York show. I would love to see shows branch out to other cities (Cincinnati, New Orleans, Houston), and bring the flavor of that town.

Nicole said...

During the reverse waiter scene, I was also wondering if I was enjoying this episode more as a pastiche of the original as opposed to its own merits. I liked the alterations, but maybe part of the problem with this new version is that it was always more of a comparative exercise than an enjoyment of the show on its own merits.

Castle is the true inheritor of the Cupid 1.0 banter, so it really does demonstrate how casting can make or break a show. Bobby Cannavale was an effective Cupid/Trevor, but Sarah Paulson was not effective as Claire, and seemed shrill more often than not in her portrayal. Paula Marshall was able to balance the tone in a far more sympathetic way so that you weren't constantly wondering why Trevor would have any interest in this woman.

Anyway, I'm glad this ended with one of the better episodes, but in a way I wish this version had never happened, because it confirms how the original show with its perfect chemistry was cancelled way too soon.

Matt said...

I'd thought that the last aired episode (which was pretty good) was the finale, especially since the closing scene set up a pseudo-cliffhanger that would be appropriate for a finale, and had deleted my season pass.

As for the complaints about Paulson, she was amazing in "Down With Love," and still has goodwill from that. My problem was with Cannavale, who came off as too much of a big goofy lug rather than a sharper more pointed character.

Unknown said...

I think about the only time I really liked Paulson was in Down With Love (though well, look who she was playing against, so I am still wondering on the chemistry thing), and she wasn't bad in her 5 seconds in Serenity. Otherwise, really have not liked her much in this show and downright was irritated in Studio 60. She strikes me as the worst miscast in the whole thing.

Terence Chua said...

The original ending was better, anyway. "You had me a Yo!" as opposed to "Baby, we were born to run", with the Pretenders' "I'll Stand By You" playing in the background? No contest.

Anonymous said...

These past couple episodes were on par with the original. The show started off bad and found it's footing too late.

I find it unfortunate that a show about something positive is canceled while so many negative shows constantly run reminding us of how shitty life can be.

I'll miss both versions of Cupid.

LoopyChew said...

Count me in as another person who enjoyed this episode. I wasn't actively trying to compare this to The Linguist and still enjoyed it quite a bit, because this was one of those few episodes (like the pilot) in which Trevor's original plan goes awry and he realizes the mistake he made. The meta-humor of the wait-staff reversal didn't even click until I came over here, but that IS pretty amusing.

However, one thing I want to point out: Cannavale knocked it out of the park with the redux of the professor monologue, even if I don't care for the change of the professor's new lover being faculty (instead of another student). I think the monologue is a pretty good example of the fact that they chose the right guy to play Trevor 2.0, and I think anyone auditioning for a 3.0 should nail this bit, including everything up to the "ask [guy] tomorrow; he'll say he believes in Cupid" bit.

The one other place I want to say ABC dropped the ball: Premiering a rom-com, particularly one based around the concept of Cupid on Earth, in practically APRIL. A month and a half earlier, say...oh, I don't know, February 10th? 17th? Sometime around Valentine's Day? There could've been a bit more momentum.

Anonymous said...

I love the original "linguist."

A few things I thought when watching the new one (and I have to admit, the middle of the 2009series is on my DVR, not yet watched), I never really cared about the COTW.

I was kind of ok with this week's linguist's singleness, because he was a twit. I wanted Tim DeKay's Jennings Crawford to fall in love.

In the episodes I saw, I never really cared that a couple got together. It was nice if the couples fell in love; but if they didn't? So what. There wasn't just a lack of chemistry between Trevor & Claire, there was a lack of chemistry throughout the show.

I was also sick of Trevor being wrong all the time.

Tracey said...

I finally got around to seeing it on I had less troubles with their new software than I used to with their old.

Hmn... well, this one certainly gave me some grins. I enjoyed it, but I couldn't stop comparing it to The Linguist, and it suffered from the comparison.

I liked the idea in the original that the woman studied dialect to make a better life for herself, rather than as part of Trevor's scheme to impress a guy. In fact, I thought that the desire to better yourself was one of the things the original couple had in common, and it's not there in this one.

I never for a moment bought Debbie's low class accent -- it seemed like she was exhausted doing it, and relieved when she finally got to speak with a generic dialect.

I did like the take-down of the waitress, and I can see why that might lead the man to reveal his origins, and Rob was smart to recognize that under the circumstances it would seem like he was making fun of her (although why he would do that with a Southie accent instead of a ... whatever the hell accent she was supposed to be doing ... is beyond me), but it seemed like she accepted his story a little too easily under those circumstances. It made more sense for her to buy it in the original.

I also liked Piven's take on the Russo story better. Cannavale seems angry while he's telling it, which doesn't make much sense if it's not really his story. Piven starts out just making up a story, and gets increasingly choked up as he gets pulled into his own sad storytelling, then breaks the mood by making a joke out of it (go off and fight minotaurs).

Interestingly, your post on The Linguist commments on the fact that the regulars are a smaller presence in that episode; in this episode, it seemed like they worked much more with the regulars than they usually do, though I think it's the same in both episodes. Trevor and Claire seemed to have a bit better chemistry in this one than usual. The chemistry is still grotesquely lacking, and I continue to wonder if they reduced the role of the regulars precisely because of this lack of chemistry.

I agree that the cell phone conference call thing was completely stupid. I think it was supposed to give Claire some idea that Trevor actually had some mysterious knowledge, but since the audience knows where his knowledge came from, it's just stupid.

Following that mysterious knowledge idea... one of the things I liked best about the original series was the way they played with is-he-or-isn't-he. There was much more to Trevor's Cupid identity than just his obsession with fixing people up: he had a firm belief in his omniscience, invulnerability and immortality, until these beliefs were challenged, and when they were he was very shaken. He had at times a desperate longing to return home to Mount Olympus. And he had at times an uncanny knack for persuasion and an uncanny instinct for couples.

Cannavale seems more like a frat boy than a god. When I described the original, I would say, "it's about a guy who may or may not be Cupid, who's trying to put together 100 couples so he can return to Mount Olympus." This version? "It's about a guy who thinks he's Cupid and tries to fix people up." That's a very different show, and not as appealing a show.