I Speak TV: ‘Cupid’…stupid? (Sorry.)

Posted: April 1, 2009 in Jeff Holland, Threat Quality
Tags: ,

113541_0150One more look at a TV midseason newbie. I really wanted to mention ABC’s “Cupid,” mostly to point out how totally bizarre it is that it exists in the first place – by which I mean, in the second place.

Let’s take a trip into the way-back machine, into those halcyon days of 1998. Clinton was in office, the neo-swing music fad was ready to make white jazz annoying to a whole new listening generation, and George Clooney was transitioning from forgettable-movie actor to really-good-movie actor.

Some other, far more important things may have been happening at the time, but I didn’t know, because I was paying way too much attention to TV even then. ABC was taking some pretty bold chances back then, with a dark adaptation of the BBC series “Cracker” and Catholic church drama “Nothing Sacred” (neither of them lasted beyond a 13-episode run, but both are available on DVD now).

Balancing these dramas out was the romantic comedy “Cupid,” starring Jeremy Piven as a man who believed he was the titular god, stripped of his power and made mortal to match 100 couples before he could return to Olympus, with the grudging assistance of his romance-is-dead psychiatrist, played by Paula Marshall.

Part of what made the series fun was the old-school dynamic between Piven and Marshall – the two had a screwball chemistry that seemed absolutely natural. Each quickly came to admire the other’s position, while obviously LIV26CUPIDE1disagreeing with it, because both were absolutely confident in their own beliefs, and so audiences could accept both approaches, as well as the inevitable hints of romantic chemistry.

And oddly enough for a show built on a highly romantic premise, it never played as saccharine, a tribute to showrunner Rob Thomas’s ability to blend whimsy with down-to-earth snark (a talent that would be put on full display when he put together “Veronica Mars” a few years later). But alas, the ratings just weren’t there, and “Cupid” got booted (delightful rhyming!) well before its 100 matches were complete.

Now hop back into the way-back machine and return to 2009. A democrat is once again in the White House, various Jonas Brothers roam wild and free, and George Clooney owns two Academy Awards. ABC is once again big on scripted shows, with “Lost” as its flagpole innovative drama.

So they asked Rob Thomas to develop “Cupid” for them all over again, for some reason thinking maybe the show was ahead of its time, and now that the cultural landscape has settled back into a semblance of 1998, the time is now right for “Cupid” to blossom, once again under the mighty pen of Rob Thomas.

(I have completely made this up – honestly, I cannot for the life of me figure out what makes a network decide to remake its own failed series a decade later. But let’s just say it was that.)

Premise is exactly the same, with some minor touches – Bobby Canivale is the title character, and Sarah Paulson is his doctor. Instead of a black bouncer as his buddy, it’s a Latino bar owner, and instead of that outdated concept of karaoke breaking the ice for singles, now it’s…mariachi karaoke.

So if it’s the same basic show as before…why does it seem so awful now?

It’s possible that I’m simply more jaded than the hopeless romantic I was at 18, but I don’t think that’s the case. Nope, I’m laying the blame at the feet of Canivale and Paulson, who exhibit all of the neuroses of the original Piven/Marshall pairing, with none of the ballsy self-assuredness.

Paula Marshall has one of those demeanors that exudes confidence even when she’s failing spectacularly, and Piven…well, part of the reason his Ari Gold character on “Entourage” is so engaging is the manic “Fuck me? No, FUCK YOU!” arrogance that only a short man who gets hairplugs and works out too much can bring to the table. In the original, it didn’t matter if he was nuts or she was closed-off, because their positive traits far outshined such minor quirks.

But in the new pilot, Bobby Canivale, with his trying-too-hard smile and overeagerness (and dear god, faux-hawk, really?!), keeps giving this weird look like his delusions might shatter at any moment and he’s trying to outrace it. And Sarah Paulson does nothing but fluster and wilt in the face of her patient’s mania, making cupid-bobbyit hard to believe she’s any kind of psychiatrist, let alone this guy’s.

So without the strong anchor of the two leads, the rest of the show flounders, and the silliness and, let’s face it, stupidity of the concept becomes that much more apparent. Because our two main characters seem needy and kind of dumb, it’s hard to warm to any of their pairings-of-the-week, because who in their right mind would allow themselves to be manipulated by these two goofuses?

I’m hoping interest in this “Cupid 2.0” means maybe the original series sees the light of day on DVD, and I can more reasonably compare the two. But ultimately, that’s the only silver lining I can see. Though I’ve been wrong before – I assumed people would laugh “Grey’s Anatomy” out of the room, but people love that dumb-ass show.

Ah, hell. Maybe the time is right for the new “Cupid” after all?

  1. V.I.P. Referee says:

    I didn’t even pay attention to the previews because I thought it was another creepy dating/mate-selecting show. The leads didn’t register as anything more than the usual heavily spray-tanned folk of “The Bachelor” et al. The major networks aren’t competing well with what’s being pumped out from others (The Turner Networks, AMC, the premium channels).

  2. Moff says:

    Uh, you misspelled the show in that second-to-last sentence. It’s generally written Sexy Doctors.

  3. threatqualitypress says:

    What’s weird is that someone already remade this show–“Valentine” on the CW, has basically the same premise, and it’s been on for…some amount of time!

  4. Jeff Holland says:

    Bastion of truth Wikipedia says “Valentine” got canceled sometime in November.

    Nevertheless – yes, pretty much the same idea. Good try, CW.

  5. Jeff Holland says:

    Also, @ VIP Referee: To Sarah Paulson’s credit, she’s not really spray-tanned. In point of fact, she is nearly translucent in her paleness.

  6. cschack says:

    I loved “Cupid” first time around, so when reruns started a few months ago, I happily reacquainted myself with the whole thing. In my humble opinion, it’s still quite good. On the other hand, I’ll watch anything with Paula Marshall, so I may be somewhat biased.

  7. I like to watch Veronica Mars episodes as well as Lost. I found your blog on google and read a few of your other posts. I just added you to my Google News Reader. Keep up the good work. Look forward to reading more from you in the future.

  8. Jeff Holland says:

    Glad you’ve enjoyed us so far – hang around, we’ll try not to disappoint.

  9. braak says:

    Feh. You’ll try not to disappoint.

  10. I also have my own blog I just find it hard to write quality content like this.
    I guess I really donít have the time. anyways the Jonas Brothers Rock!

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