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Nate and Marni are complete opposites; Nate's comes from a long line of geniuses who all eventually go insane. Then there's Marni, an occupational therapist and everlasting optimist. Somehow, they meet and ironically find a connection that could become love, if they allow themselves to let it happen! Also, there's a dying clown living in the closet. Written by
The funniest new show of the season. If "Committed" is the last hurrah for the sitcom then it went out feisty and fighting
Network: NBC; Genre: Sitcom; Content Rating: TV-14 (for language and sexual humor); Classification: Contemporary (star range: 1 - 4);
Seasons Reviewed: Complete Series (1 season)
It is love at first sight when a mistaken identity blind date brings the wildly free-spirited Marnie (Jennifer Finnegan, "Crossing Jordan") and severely neurotic record store owner Nate (Josh Cooke) together. With their two, respective, friends Bowie (Darius McCrary, trying desperately to loose his "Family Matters" image) and Tess (Tammie Lynn Michaels, "Popular") strapped in the backseat "Committed" takes us on a wild ride through the eccentricity, neurosis and flat-out insanity of the two opposites as they make this budding committed relationship work.
Created by classic sitcom writers Eileen Heisler and DeAnne Heline ("Murphy Brown"), "Committed" rejuvenates both the traditional sitcom and the rarely well done relationship series by successfully pulling the rug out from under all our expectations and sends them both flying in fresh new directions. Don't let the New York street setting and self-referential episode titles fool you. With its institutionalized mothers, outrageous plots, lengthy set pieces and politically incorrect dark comedy, "Committed" is more "Titus" and "Monk" - than "Friends".
The drive-by sitcom viewer won't know what to make of this show. Take, for example, Tom Poston in a lead role as a dying clown who lives in Marnie's closet and whose action consists of little more than shuffling to the kitchen in a bathrobe dragging an oxygen tank. Or RonReaco Lee as Marnie's passive-aggressive wheel-chair-bound black friend Todd. His antagonistic relationship with Nat is the highlight of the series. And then there are the over-the-top story lines, my favorite being "The Morning After" where a romantic day puts Nat uncomfortably in the middle of a bitter reunion between Marnie and the father who abandoned her when she was 12. In another episode Marnie's problem is resolved by the death of another character. It's a testament to the writing and mad-capped performances from Cook and particularly Finnegan (doing TV's first low-pitched nasal voice), that this material, which reads so unfunny on paper, gets such raucous laughs.
In the series' driver's seat, Finnigan is a knock-out embodying all of Marnie's effervescent ticks and eccentricities all the while making what could have been such a cartoon character into someone with a winding line of logic to her. Cooke is equally funny with his spastic reactions. The role of tightly wound Nat must be a physical comic's dream. The show works because we buy this unlikely pair as a couple, and it works better than that by avoiding all the lazy pitfalls of the relationship series. There is no "will-they-or-won't-they" false sexual tension, they don't artificially break up and try to get back together. "Committed" is one show that knows how to find comedy in a functional relationship.
The show's weakest elements are with supporting players McCrary and Micheals. The two work well when bouncing off the leads, but the show starts to feel too "sitcom" when episodes start popping up with Bowie and Tess in their own B-story. "Committed" is at its best when it is all about Nat and Marnie. The lack of these forced B-stories is what initially gives the show such a unique flavor and allows precious time for the scenarios to be fully explored and jokes to flow up to the next level. Rare in the usually set-up/punch-line sitcom world. The show does this in the pilot beautifully so we know the show can do it. Special attention goes to a lengthy, gut-busting set-piece in which Todd is forced out of a restaurant.
"Committed" is the type of screwball sitcom that would be called brilliant if it where British. But there is an element of sadness in watching it. In a year with "Desperate Housewives" and "The Office" remake, I can't shake the feeling that this is a last gasp of fresh air for the dying multi-camera studio audience sitcom. Even the fact that I used the word "sitcom" above as a negative is symptomatic of how we have been conditioned to recoil against, and instantly dismiss, the genre over the years. That's a bad sign. Good sitcoms are few and far between and given how far apart they can be this may very well be the last hurrah before the genre is muscled off the stage.
"Committed" is a good one. Even all the elevated standards we now expect for a sitcom to get a shred of notice, this show rises to the challenge and surprises every chance it can. When was the last time you saw a musical action montage at the end of a sitcom episode and it was used well? It has a desire to build on jokes instead of dispensing drive-by one-liners and the skill to create a couple even I enjoyed rooting for. It is a pleasure. A unique show - feisty, cute, very funny, genuine (despite its silliness) and, with these characters, had great potential. It can be edgy and crude but not mean-spirited or crass. You may think you've seen all the sitcom has to offer, but "Committed" proves there is life in it yet.
* * * ½ / 4
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