Romantic comedy, like some of the activities in which it ideally culminates, is something too many people believe they can do well with little effort. For example, writers Jon Lucas and Scott Moore had enormous success with The Hangover in 2009, which is one of those movies people are talking about when they explain the better and better projects on which Bradley Cooper has risen.
But that same year, they were the writers of Ghosts Of Girlfriends Past, which is one of those movies people are talking about when they explain the facile muck from which Matthew McConaughey has re-emerged.
Romantic comedy: harder than you think.
Now, Moore has brought his talents back to the genre with the new sitcom Mixology on ABC, which is meant to be a sort of interwoven anthology, like the Garry Marshall holiday movies Valentine's Day and New Year's Eve. Only where those movies got by with a certain good-natured goofiness and an abundance of sunny famous people, Mixology tries to get by on a sneering meanness and a bunch of actors who mostly aren't terribly familiar but certainly ought to be doing something better with their time.
The gimmick (and oh, it is a gimmick indeed) is that 10 single people are all in the same generic bar over the course of one long evening, and they're all going to gradually hook up, or not (I guess?), and each episode is devoted to one pair or other combination. (According to online listings, episode 5 is called "Fab & Jessica & Dominic," but remember, this is network television, so they're all probably just talking.)
In the pilot, we meet Tom, a miserable sap trying to get over the girlfriend who's just left him. They were introduced by his friend Bruce, who explains to Tom that he only introduced him to the girl (whom Bruce calls a "pig fart") because, as Bruce put it, "I thought she was a whore!" Bruce, unhappily, is our narrator as well, and the combination of the desire to establish that he is crude and the fact that he is on a network means that when he describes to us Tom's relationship with the girlfriend and how intense it was, he says, "They smashed it out about five times a week."
("Smashed it out.")
Tom meets up with Maya, who, prior to heading for the bar, has been sitting around in her office lamenting how soft white men have gotten. (Don't blame me; I'm not the writer.) As evidence, she says something snotty to a white guy who works in her office, and when he doesn't react, she says to her friend sadly, "If I talked like that to Don Draper, he would smack me in the mouth. That is a man."
(Even typing it, I kind of can't believe I saw it.)
So she goes to the bar, and she meets Tom, and then they flirt, because what better basis is there for great romantic comedy than a guy whose friends are all miserable, misogynist jerks and a woman who longs to be smacked in the mouth?
There seems to be absolutely nothing at the core of Mixology except uncut cynicism — not even particularly good joke-writing. At one point, when Tom's friend Cal says something that Bruce finds unlikely, Bruce sarcastically says, "Oh, yeah. And maybe we'll win the lottery later and then get a ride home on unicorns that poop money." What's weird about that joke is that it's doesn't even have style; it's a generic deployment of a super-familiar construct. It's not even funny. It feels like something a 14-year-old could genuinely improvise.
When all this weird, hostile, not particularly funny dialogue has floated by for the requisite 22 minutes or so, they put the camera on Maya, go to slo-mo, and play a gentle, mid-tempo pop song as she gazes at Tom from across the bar, because that means that she's falling for him.
As with most things that aren't any good, Mixology is culpable in the squandering of at least a few flashes of charm from the cast that, handled better, could be sweet, or funny, or endearing. There are moments when it is possible to imagine what a good version of this show might have looked like, but this is such an utterly ill-conceived, poorly executed attempt at this genre that it ought to be — and almost surely will be — quickly buried.
Romantic comedy: harder than you think.