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. Cupid

The following are reviews from various publications of Rob's fan- and critically-acclaimed series, Cupid.

"E" Online named Cupid one of its "Top Ten Shows Cancelled Before Their Time." Check out the article online.

The 5 Worth Watching
Of 36 new shows, only these stand out

by Tim Goodman
San Francisco Examiner television critic
Nov. 4, 1998
Online at: http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?file=/examiner/archive/1998/11/04/STYLE13875.dtl

At some point, a street fighter gets tired of hearing bone crash into flesh. At some point, you've got to pull the dog off the pile. This is that point. Here's a story about good new fall shows.

All five of them.

Out of 36.

Actually, that's cheating. One of the five is a not a broadcast offering, but falls relatively close to the traditional network roll out. Besides, we couldn't find a fifth show worth a damn.

But that's digressing and we've already been down that dark, ugly, bitter path several times before. For your pleasure, and in case you haven't caught on to these rare gems, here are the Top Five Fall Shows, in order.

1. "Cupid" (10 p.m. Saturdays, ABC). The last two breakout stars in television were both women: Calista Flockhart from "Ally McBeal" and Jenna Elfman from "Dharma & Greg." This season nobody burns brighter than Jeremy Piven, who has given spectacularly good performances every week in this sometimes bitter, sometimes sweet romantic comedy about a guy who could either be insane or actually be Cupid. All he knows is he's got to hook up 100 couples and he doesn't have a bow and arrow to help him (so alcohol is often a handy replacement).

The beauty of this show is that it's a steamroller of furious jokes, pop culture spewing rants and cynicism that eventually gets tempered by not-too-schmaltzy romance.

Here's what makes "Cupid" work: The writing is tight, fast-paced, extremely funny and delivered like the best of stand-up comics - without looking back, without fear. When this show gets on a roll - as it often does - nothing else can touch it. Also, Paula Marshall, as the by-the-book psychiatrist and relationship "expert," is a wonderful balance to Piven and there's a real "Moonlighting" attraction between the two.

"Cupid" isn't exactly burning up the ratings. It needs viewers. If it can linger, ABC may move it to Mondays when football season is over. And that may open it to a wider, appreciative audience. At the very least, you ought to set the VCR - this is as good as it gets.

2. "Felicity" (9 p.m. Tuesdays, The WB). It was easy to see why this show - the one almost every other network president wanted - had the nation's TV critics in a buzz. It was well-written and thoughtful, touching and nostalgic and moving. Of course, TV loves the coming-of-age story and that's essentially what's happening here. Brainy and sweet Felicity Porter (Keri Russell) ditches Stanford and plans for a medical career and goes to NYU on an ill-conceived, first-time-in-her-life impulsive decision.

She followed a boy. Surprise - he's a loser in hunk's clothing. But it's not her decision that is the gist for this show, it's what she makes of the mistake. Russell is fabulous. She can evoke a variety of emotions with the slightest facial expression. Her character, however, is agonizingly meek and nearly humorless. But there are a couple of reasons this show stands out from the pack.

First, it's about the only unflinchingly emotional show on television. No irony, no winking. It's sincere - and that's an act of bravery these days. Secondly, a good TV show spins your emotions. That means the characters get under your skin. You may not love every episode, you may have acted differently in college, but you come back to Felicity's life because you care about her. And you should.

3. "Sports Night" (9:30 p.m. Wednesdays, ABC). Very few shows even try to do a dramedy in 30 minutes and even fewer - perhaps "M*A*S*H" was the only one - do it well. As TV viewers, we are not ready for drama in a sitcom time-slot; we have trouble laughing one minute, getting serious and weepy the next. But that's exactly what makes "Sports Night" so compelling, so necessary. On the surface, it's a "Larry Sanders" -type behind-the-scenes spoof of ESPN's "SportsCenter." But it's so much more.

You don't have to be a sports fan to get the jokes, but it sometimes helps. And men are not the ultimate target audience - given the fact that Felicity Huffman, who plays producer Dana Whitaker, is the brains behind the entire series. In fact, women have great roles on this show - but who doesn't? "Sports Night" takes a little getting used to for reasons stated above. Also, it uses the laugh track judiciously (once not at all), a positive development. Mostly, this is a workplace show that is funny on a variety of levels and daringly emotional on as many others. Any time a network show isn't from a cookie-cutter mold, you have to embrace it or it dies and it discourages creativity.

4. "Linc's" (10 p.m. Thursdays and Saturdays, 11:30 p.m. Sundays, Showtime). One look at the network docket and you'll realize that shows about or peopled with African Americans are increasingly rare. Those that are seen are often stereotypical and criticized even by the African American community as one-dimensional simplicity. Here's a show (there's only one white cast member of the seven stars) that packs race, sex and a lot of politics into an unconventional package. The results are unpredictable but bold, funny and insightful. "Linc's" is a bar / restaurant owned by Russell Lincoln (Steven Williams), a Republican whose hangout attracts everyone from Pam Grier's liberal activist to Georg Stanford Brown's sleazy lobbyist.

Showtime chose to show "Linc's" and its other genre-busting series, "Rude Awakenings," without a laugh track. Admirable, of course, but also jarring. It takes some getting used to but stick with it. This show is smart and it's as unafraid to poke politicians in the eye as it is to wallow in sex. An adult show the networks wouldn't know how to handle.

5. "Will & Grace" (9:30 p.m. Mondays, NBC). Yes this is another safe gay comedy - no chance of Will having sex any time soon, and definitely not with Grace - but it's also refreshing in that Will (Eric McCormack) doesn't have to be en fuego to alert the world that he's gay. If a romantic comedy is the soft spot for a cross-section of viewers, then this show can't miss because in Will and Grace (Debra Messing) there's chemistry to spare.

This is the only true half-hour sitcom on this list, a fact that shouldn't be a surprise to anyone who had the misfortune to see what Hollywood tried to pass off as funny this fall. "Will & Grace" goes for the one-liner like any good sitcom, from "Frasier" to "The Simpsons," but manages to be something more: a show where you care about the characters. And unlike some recent "hits," this show is funny for 22 minutes and has great depth in the supporting cast, particularly Sean Hayes as Will's very gay friend and Megan Mullally as Grace's very wealthy assistant.

Alan Sepinwall on TV
'Cupid' aims for new viewers as ABC mounts challenge to NBC's 'Must-See' block

by Alan Sepinwall
New Jersey Star-Ledger
CUPID
(Tonight at 9, Channel 7)

Trevor (Jeremy Piven) tries to find a mate for a beautiful woman who wants to be appreciated for her personality. Rated TV-PG-L.

Finding a new television show to follow is often like looking for a mate. There's plenty of material out there to choose from, but obstacles aplenty.

A show might seem appealing but have a fatal flaw (a former "Baywatch" star in the supporting cast). A show could try really hard but not generate a spark (an earnestly well-meaning family drama, say). It might keep throwing out the same old come-ons (any recent NBC sitcom, any comedy with a former sitcom star and untested writers). And even when you think you're ready to make a series commitment, you might find out your new show airs on a commitment-phobic network with a quick cancellation button.

This season, the field of series bachelors and bachelorettes has been pretty barren, but we think we've found a show that'll be hard not to fall in love with, if you just give it a try: ABC's romantic comedy-drama "Cupid," which moves to Thursdays at 9 beginning tonight.

As foolish as it might be to try to quantify love in a list, this is television we're talking about, and sound bites rule. So here are four simple reasons why you should watch "Cupid," the season’s best new show:

1. Jeremy Piven is the star. If you're aware of Piven, it's probably either as the obnoxious cousin from "Ellen" or a host of obnoxious frat-guy roles in '80s and '90s teen comedies (usually featuring John Cusack in some way). Overbearing and irritating has always been his stock in trade.

So why is he so good as Trevor Hale, a paroled mental patient who just might be the Greco-Roman god of love? Why is he so confident, so charming, so funny and (occasionally) so moving?

Maybe Piven's side job as a "Cupid" producer status as a producer gives him enough feedback to keep Trevor from being a jerk. Maybe he's lucked into the role of a lifetime. Who knows? All that matters is that he's delivering one of the most charismatic leading turns in a long time, and his presence alone is worth tuning in on a given week.

2. It's really funny. And smart. And sometimes touching. The writing staff, culled from shows as diverse as "Moonlighting" and "thirtysomething," has been turning in some of the funniest, most intelligent scripts on TV this season.

There are so many great lines in a given hour that you may actually want to tape the show as you watch it, just so you can go back and catch the ones you missed because you were laughing. It helps that Piven and Paula Marshall -- as Claire, the skeptical shrink assigned to monitor Trevor -- can deliver the banter at lightning-speed, to give extra time for jokes in a given hour.

They also write terrific dialogue for the other characters, including whatever guest stars Trevor may be trying to fix up. Whether it's a cosmologist expounding about the origins of the universe on a first date or a shy college professor talking about his South Boston upbringing, everyone gets great stuff to say, and many of the show's first dates will be a lot more entertaining than ones you've been on.

The writers have managed to toe the line on Trevor's true identity nicely. There hasn't been a single iota of "magic" in any episode, though Trevor will occasionally do a parlor trick that seems impossible (throwing a dart over his shoulder while aiming with the reflection in a beer mug and hitting the target dead center). And the show on occasion will suggest very strongly that he really is just a lonely guy with some delusions.

3. It's unpredictable. The basic premise -- whether he's really Cupid or not, Trevor believes he has to unite 100 couples in order to return to Mt. Olympus -- would seem to suggest some kind of "Touched by a Nutcase" weekly quasi-anthology format, with Trevor bringing two young lovers together at the end of each week's show.

Miraculously, that hasn't happened. Trevor occasionally fails. Sometimes, there’s no couple at all. Other times, the couple is an afterthought.

One of the best episodes so far featured Trevor challenging the shy guys from Claire's singles encounter group to try to collect as many rejections as possible from women at a Halloween party, leading to a wild farce of bad pick-up lines, odd behavior and the occasional surprise success story. Another sent Claire, Trevor and his roommate Champ (Jeffrey D. Sams) on a fun-filled road trip with an aspiring pop star looking to find the first boy she kissed.

And even when the show is squarely in "couple of the week" territory, it can take a magical twist or two. In one, Trevor tried to fix up a terminal heart patient with what he felt was her "perfect match." After the first date, the guy died in a car accident, but she received his heart -- a perfect match for her incredibly rare blood type -- in a transplant.

Of course, the ones where Trevor just gets two people together are pretty nifty — and tonight's bittersweet episode is actually an odd choice for the first show in the new timeslot — but it’s nice to know that anything can happen in a given week.

4. "Veronica's Closet" stinks. ABC has tried good dramas opposite NBC's "Must-See" Thursday in recent years, but it's never had a show this good (or, at least, with this much mass appeal), and NBC's never been this weak. "Frasier" is in a major creative slump, and "Veronica's Closet" is an embarrassment, a show just as crass and dumb in its own way as UPN's canceled "The Secret Diary of Desmond Pfeiffer," and should be protested just as vehemently -- wasting the half-hour between "Frasier" and "ER" with this is almost as offensive as parodying Abe Lincoln.

"Frasier" may show signs of life, but it's in repeats the next two weeks, so you have no excuse not to give "Cupid" a shot. And don't feel bad if you like "Cupid" so much you start missing "Frasier" -- you can always catch the Channel 11 repeats.



Read About Rob Thomas's Exploits in Television:

The Sticks
Snoops
Cupid
Dawson's Creek
Space Ghost: Coast to Coast

Copyright © 1996-2002 by Rob Thomas. All rights reserved. Web page design by Hieran Publishing.