“Andrew Lofland and Zelda Vasco will date for eight months, three weeks, five days, and one hour. This television program is the comprehensive account of their relationship from A to Z.”
Not a lot of wiggle room there. A To Z is apparently going to be the complete story of dating site matchmaker Andrew and lawyer Zelda’s relationship. Not just courtship, not just romance, but relationship. That’s not a bad hook. I’m already curious to know what that means. Falling out? Ebola outbreak? Katey Sagal is future Zelda and she’s just waiting for Andrew to die so she can go date his friend, Stu? The question is whether “A Is For Acquaintances” has more to offer than the average mystery movie trailer. Do we want to keep watching or just read what happens on Wikipedia later?
What happens in the pilot, at least, is Andrew meets Zelda, both of them try mightily to stay grounded in the midst of their respective sitcom moments, and now they’re gonna date. Molly Eichel’s pre-air review sizes the show up nicely. Our romantic heroes are charming, their sidekicks are unbearable, and the use of technology is a welcome improvement on the form. TV writers, even the ones on Twitter, rarely seem to get the Internet right. But here it’s built into the fabric of the show, as it is in the lives of many people. Andrew and Zelda become Facebook friends, they find each other on Twitter, she Shazams a song, he sends a message from his laptop that she reads on her phone. It’s not a Topic, like on Selfie. It’s the setting. It’s just there.
“A Is For Acquaintances” is about how people behave in crazy ways when they want someone to like them. Which can be true enough, and it’s understandable to exaggerate that phenomenon for our entertainment. It worked well enough for Penny Hartz. Only Happy Endings was funny. Getting that laugh was its main mission. A To Z is essentially an NBC adaptation of How I Met Your Mother, with Christin Milioti, narration, and a serious sense of fate. Sure, laughs are part of the goal—and there are some—but they’re no more important than the romance.
So back to the infatuation insanity. Andrew can’t stop staring at Zelda, and then on their first date, he tells her this story about how he saw her once, and she’s his dream woman, and this is destiny. Meanwhile Zelda, who was that woman and who vividly remembers smiling at him across the way, denies it and runs away, apparently because she doesn’t want to face the fact that she’s been wrong about some things. We don’t know what things, unless that’s just a euphemism for not believing in destiny, which is a perfectly fine and defensible position to take. Andrew reacts by having his coder friends try to prove the woman he saw was her by digging through her information online, which is a very attractive quality. Meanwhile Andrew’s sloppy friend Stu (Henry Zebrowski) bumped into Zelda’s self-described “sexy social chameleon” friend Stephie (Lenora Crichlow) and fell for her. So Stu decides to pretend he’s a jazz musician named Scatman Des Moines to impress her, and Stephie convinces herself she loves jazz now, too. As Zelda puts it, “You hooked up with a jazz trumpeter on Friday night, and by Saturday you were wearing a porkpie hat and listening to Miles Davis.” Stu and Stephie are trying to get each other to like them for who they aren’t, and Andrew and Zelda are trying to get each other to like them despite who they are (a hopeless romantic and a control freak).
The solution? “A Is For Acquaintances” is incredibly forgiving of its characters’ antics. They’re not acting bananas. They’re just really super-duper into their crushes. Andrew thankfully realizes he’s been acting crazy, but Zelda seems to think she’s the crazy one. On the evidence of the pilot, I think he’s way more right than she is. He goes from 0 to 70 after one date, and she’s equally wrong for wanting to tap the brakes?
That’s not to say “A Is For Acquaintances” isn’t romantic, although it’s a little soon—in that I just met these people and that Andrew and Zelda were just on the outs—for making out in front of a fountain at night to get me swooning. I also don’t think the show sells those little clips of Andrew and Zelda being distracted at work because they’re reading the other’s Ello updates, but file that under the ingratiating side of this very young show’s comedy. Creator Ben Queen and company ought to grow more in sync with the cast as it goes.
Instead, what sells the romance is when Ben Feldman and Christin Milioti play it straight. Their date at the bar—after that opening Arrested Development “maritime law” shout-out—is full of sparks. Milioti is marvelously playful, as she is in the opening tour of Wallflower Online Dating. Look how she handles this three-parter. A song comes on that reminds her of this concert her ex dragged her to by “one of those groups with, like, 50 people onstage and everybody looks like they’re from the Dust Bowl.” He was there, too, and something’s dawning on him, but she hears that silence and jumps in, keeping the conversation flowing. “Why do they yell, ‘Hey!’ in, like, every song?” And then, with Andrew still realizing whatever it is, she goes:
“Are you okay?”
“Did I just offend you?”
“Are you, like, their biggest fan?” Her head pulls back and her voice drops on every line, but she’s not really apologizing or anything. She’s teasing him. Zelda’s magnetic because she’s so good at keeping things fun. Then he finally tells her his story about how he was dragged there by friends, too, and she interrupts him with a sympathy yeah. At a certain point, the band was so boring Andrew looked away, and that’s when he saw a woman he believes is Zelda. This is where his talk about The One comes in. He’s shocked that Zelda doesn’t believe in destiny. “I believe that you can find evidence that proves anything,” she says. “That’s what I do for a living. It’s my job. I did it today.” The words are serious, but she’s flirting, if just to distract from the concert story. It might sound like a small thing, but TV romances have a way of getting unwieldy. Feldman’s charismatic, too, but he’s saddled with the Ted Mosby stuff this week. Milioti’s sense of play is the most charming thing about A To Z so far. I’m looking forward to the second date.
- So how is narrator Katey Sagal messing with us? Katey Sagal is omniscient, at least when she’s not just making shit up like Andrew being a guy’s guy and Zelda being a girl’s girl. She knows how many times Andrew and Zelda have come close but not seen each other at least. She also says this relationship lasts eight months. Maybe the eight months take more than a season. Maybe we get a new couple or couples next season. Or maybe she’s flat-out lying. Maybe she’s a dating website ad promising better results if you use Wallflower. Is there any hope for Andrew and Zelda?
- In related news, the narration doesn’t tell us anything we don’t know beyond that tantalizing hook and specific details that reinforce what we already know. Jury’s out.
- Is it possible to overstate how unfunny Stu’s behavior is? That pick-up line bit is a trainwreck. Okay, Scatman Des Moines is a fun name.
- Lenora Crichlow, on the other hand, is reliably funny, so I hope A To Z can give her something good to do.
- The other characters are the people who work at Wallflower: Christina Kirk as Andrew and Stu’s irate boss Lydia, and Parvesh Cheena and Hong Chau as programmers Dinesh and Lora, who are in a long-term, not-all-that-happy relationship. Good stuff on the sidelines from all of them, as well as some expected pilot clunkers.
- The split-screen might have been charming if not for You’re The Worst. Here it’s just us having eyes on these two eventual paramours, hinting through similarities that they’re made for each other. On You’re The Worst, it’s about putting these two people separated by distance into the same space, physically and emotionally, and it’s so much more electric.
- A To Z marries planned obsolescence with the dating site: “Every time a picture [of a successful Wallflower match] goes up there, you have all failed!”
- Andrew: “When a guy chooses a girl on the site, guess how important it is that she have a college degree.” Zelda: “I’m gonna go with of no importance.”
- How Your Andrew And Your Zelda Met Each Other: I’ve already mentioned a lot of HIMYM overlap, but for another thing, Dinesh and Lora have responded to the concept of The One with that of The Negative One, which is when you think you’ve found someone perfect for you but as time passes, you realize the match isn’t love but war. For another, the hoverboard gag is like HIMYM’s flashes to the future where people have lightsabers.