A TO Z Sneak Peek: The Mother Gets Her Do-Over (Or, How I Met Your Mother And Didn’t Yank Your Chains For Nine Years)

Courtesy NBC

Spoiler alert: She’s not dead! (I kid.)

NBC’s freshman comedy is packed with charm, but it’s got some obstacles to overcome to take off.

In the run-up to the new fall TV season next month, we here at ThankYouLizLemon thought we’d take a look at some of the new pilots that will be hitting the airwaves in the next few weeks.

I’m going to state this upfront: I’m generally not a fan of romantic comedies. Sure, once in a while when something clever comes along, I enjoy a good love story as much as anyone. Most of the time, I can’t be bothered with them, simply because I find the formula so tired, and the various roadblocks on the way to happily-ever-after trite.

Needless to say, my expectations were way, way low when it came to NBC’s new comedy A to Z. When the series was first revealed at upfronts in May, I just couldn’t shake the feeling that this was How I Met Your Mother redux, and the fact that the actress who played the title character in that show (Cristin Milioti) is the lead in this one did nothing to dispel that qualm.

While there are many similarities to CBS’ dearly-departed stalwart, A to Z still somehow manages to feel fresh, despite not being particularly original in concept, and to my great shock, is downright charming.

Meet Cute! / Courtesy NBC

Meet Cute! / Courtesy NBC

The story centers on two twentysomething (thirtysomething?) Angelenos, Andrew Lofland (Mad Men’s Ben Feldman) and Zelda Vasco (Milioti). He works for an online dating agency, she’s a pro-bono lawyer for a corporate firm. He’s got the tragic backstory, his mother having died when he was a kid, which makes him believe in True Love and fairy tales. She’s got the chaotic childhood, her mother a groupie who swapped husbands as often as her daughter swaps zingers, and she predictably lashes out at her upbringing by turning to reason and logic to calm herself. He’s whimsical, she’s practical, and obviously they’re Meant For Each Other. Or are they?

The conceit of A to Z is that we are told right from the introduction (by Katey Segal, no less) how long Andrew and Zelda (get it?) dated — eight months, three weeks, five days and one hour, to be exact. However, we aren’t told how the story ends: do they break up? (Milioti’s personal prediction as per the NBC trailer.) Do they get married afterwards? (Feldman’s take.) That’s up to us to decide, and NBC is banking on the audience maintaining interest long enough to see it play out.

Personally, I have to wonder if there’s room for a series like this right now on the airwaves. Following the controversy over HIMYM’s final season, and the reveal in the finale that a) the titular Mother Ted longed for all those years died before we got to see the “happy ending” and b) he ended up with Robin after all, it makes me question whether audiences are ready to sign up for a comparable story here.

a to z 2

Courtesy NBC

It’s unfair to pit the two shows against each other, I know, but given how recent those wounds are from HIMYM’s swan song, and especially that Milioti’s been dropped into a similar role here, I think it’s a fair concern. I know a lot of fans were burned by the former’s finale, and since this show has the same target audience, I could see how some viewers might not want to invest so much so soon. Which would be a shame, because I think A to Z has a lot to offer.

In typical pilot fashion, it doesn’t escape the tropes. Both characters live in impossibly large and expensive homes in one of the most expensive markets in America. Andrew’s best friend Stu (Henry Zebrowksi) is a crass Jim Gaffigan lookalike. Zelda’s best friend Stephie (Lenora Crichlow) is the sexually adventurous token person of color, and she’s English to boot. The only other visible minorities are the IT department at the dating agency. Andrew is a “guy’s guy” who’s also a dreamer, watching hockey and belting out Céline Dion with equal fervor. (Every girl’s dream!) Zelda is a witty lawyer who snarks on hipster bands and keeps men at arm’s length for fear of getting hurt again. They have a meet-cute, fall for each other, have a misunderstanding in which one storms off, then clear everything up and go on their second date.

Yet, I don’t want to make it sound like this is all awful — it’s not. Sometimes the predictability of these stories is comforting, because you know who you’re supposed to root for, and it really is about the journey rather than the destination. Unlike the movie 500 Days of Summer, to which it’s been compared as well thanks to the end-in-the-beginning format, I find Andrew much more likeable here than Tom there, and barring the Ted Mosby-esque search to prove Zelda was at the same concert he was at thanks to some creative online stalking, he’s down-to-earth while maintaining enough whimsy to be endearing to me.

Courtesy NBC

Courtesy NBC

That was another surprise to me: I only know Feldman from his run as crazy artist Ginsberg on Mad Men, so his performance here was a delight, and places him firmly in the Romantic Leading Man camp. Milioti, for her part, proves why millions of fans fell for The Mother last year: she’s composed, but vulnerable enough to let you know she’s got a bit of an edge if she’s pushed. Together, the actors have an effortless chemistry that makes it easy to champion their love story, and hope the “end” narrator Segal reminds us of isn’t really the end of them as a couple.

It’s easy to chalk A to Z up as How I Met Your Mother without the Gotcha! (Yet.) Or 500 Days of Summer with yuppies instead of hipsters. The show felt thoroughly cinematic to me, as though I were watching the hit indie Rom-Com of the year instead of a sitcom pilot, which I think is promising; my only worry is perhaps that it might be difficult to mine an entire season out of those eight months (three weeks, five days and one hour). But, I think the rapport in particular between Milioti and Feldman is enough to allow the show to stand on its own, and to my astonishment, I really hope it does.

Are you tuning in to see Andrew and Zelda’s relationship from A to Z?


A to Z premieres Oct. 2 at 9:30pm on NBC. The pilot is currently available for preview on NBC.com.

Nels
Nels knew how to operate a TV remote control before she knew how to talk. As a result, she has spent an inordinate amount of time pretending she actually lives on a soundstage. When she isn’t watching whichever show is currently capturing her heart, she is writing about how said show is currently capturing her heart. She loves pie.

One Response to A TO Z Sneak Peek: The Mother Gets Her Do-Over (Or, How I Met Your Mother And Didn’t Yank Your Chains For Nine Years)

  1. […] over the place enough as it is, How I Met Your Mother‘s Cristin Milioti (also of the late A to Z fame) also makes an appearance, and Julia Stiles returns as Morgan’s girlfriend Jessica. (Am […]

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