Sitcoms, like every other TV genre, start off with something Buzzy and Conceptual to grab audience attention, before jettisoning it, to some extent, to get down to the business of what the show is actually about. Which, more often than not in sitcom-land, is the dating misadventures of a group of friends in a large city.
Marry Me, the NBC sitcom about a long-term couple about to get engaged, fits this mold. It was created by David Caspe and stars Casey Wilson, who previously worked together on Happy Endings, a fantastic ABC comedy that ran for three seasons before getting cancelled. One reason this former effort never quite garnered viewing momentum was that it took too long to move past the initial Big Concept; the series was ostensibly about the will-they-won’t-they of formerly engaged couple Dave and Alex, who in the pilot fail to get married when Alex (Elisha Cuthbert) leaves Dave (Zachary Knighton) at the altar. The series took a half-season to move past this relationship and shift to an ensemble comedy, and once the emphasis shifted to include the other characters, namely the one-two-punch of comic duos Damon Wayans Jr. (New Girl)/Eliza Coupe(Benched) and Casey Wilson/Adam Pally (The Mindy Project), the show found a small but obsessed audience.
This time around, Caspe (who is now married to Wilson and based the series very loosely on their relationship) quickly moves the series past its initial conceit. Promos and the pilot set up the series as a tale of long-term couple Jake (Ken Marino) and Annie (Casey Wilson) who appear to be cursed in their attempts to maintain a relationship/get engaged/get married. The pilot certainly plays with this, as the two attempt to propose to each other multiple times in the episode, only to have it spectacularly combust each time. But just as suspension of disbelief is about to rescinded on the viewer’s part, the two finally communicate, and do so effectively. It’s adorable, and real, and it’s an example of something that happens a lot in this series, as it takes a simple premise with standard sitcom elements of miscommunication, absurdism, bad luck and so on, and then neatly upends them, just as you’re beginning to think you know exactly what’s going to happen next at all times.
Ken Marino and Casey Wilson have a deeply natural, effervescent chemistry onscreen together, and are so believable as a long-term couple that it’s like watching your adored (really cool and snarky) aunt and uncle, or family friends, interact with each other. Capturing the everyday magic, the inherent abrasiveness, and the occasional heady highs of living with and loving another person, as well as the ins and outs of dancing around and living with their quirks, is hard to do well. It’s something Mad About You and I Love Lucy have done in the past, and in a small way, Marry Me feels like a throwback to that, a more classic form of sitcom about two people who, at the end of the day, genuinely love and are committed to each other, and who are fundamentally likable.
The latter goes against the mold of many modern-day comedies, which sets up characters who are inherently terrible people, propping them up as comic caricatures so that we can laugh at their awful, frenetic behavior while ignoring the slightly uneasy feeling in our gut. Annie and Jake are well-meaning, articulate, most-of-the-time good people. And credit goes to Caspe for creating, in Jake, a leading man in a sitcom who is not an overgrown man-child, irresponsible jerk, or idealized romantic — Jake is a man who gives Annie as good as he gets, but also adores her in all her crazy, emotive personality.
The dialogue is also funny. Very funny. For example, in the pilot, when Annie, losing it when Jake still hasn’t proposed to her after six years, snarks “Do you not love me? Then please free me while I still have an egg. Give me one egg.” The line could have come off as screechy or histrionic, but Wilson commits so fully to the tirade that follows, in which she effectively takes down his mom, friends, and inability to commit so completely, all while delivering a full barrage of hilarious facial expressions and tics, that it’s just entertaining instead. Or when she tells her friend, “Life’s full of compromises. My shoes? Designer. My shampoo? For horses.” (Men of the world: horse shampoo for women is a thing. Now you know.)
The cast is rounded out with three other friends as well as Annie’s gay dads (Tim Meadows and Dan Bucatinsky). Gil (John Gemberling) is the perennial loser; dumped by his wife, he’s on a streak of active, if rather inept, self-destruction, which includes attempting to live at the all-you-can-eat buffet restaurant near his apartment. Dennah (Sarah Wright Olsen) is the deadpan, slightly flighty best friend who’s a preschool teacher by day. And Kay (Tymberlee Hill) is the sarcastic lesbian and next-door-neighbor who happily calls both Annie and Jake out on their nonsense. The supporting cast of characters is not as strong as the two leads — they are slighter and less well-developed, and with the exception of Gil, we haven’t seen them yet live their lives outside of Annie and Jake. Which is why it’s just as well that the series really is more about a couple than a friend-ensemble so far, though that could certainly change in the future.
Annie’s dads (both named Kevin), are given some of the best lines when they are onscreen, as seen in the following exchange:
Annie: “Dads – which of these curtains do you prefer: eggshell or toile?”
Kevin #1: “Ugh, I hate them both. I’m super into plantation shutters right now.”
Kevin #2: “I’m into plantation nothing ever.”
However, it’s the bite and sweetness of the Annie/Jake relationship that runs the series, and the quirky nature of their relationship can perhaps best be summed up with Annie’s statement, “Without you, I would spin off into space like Sandra Bullock in Gravity. But you keep me grounded, like Sandra Bullock in real life.”
Marry Me has garnered high enough ratings so far to be granted five additional episodes by NBC, thus surviving the cancellation blitz delivered to fellow freshman comedies A to Z and Bad Judge.