I’ve been saying the romance is suffering because A To Z isn’t very funny. The problem, according to past Nowalk, is A To Z worked backward. Instead of getting us to laugh with the characters in order to invest us in their stories, the show leans more on their stories than the comedy. It’s a romance, well, relationship drama first, comedy second. Surely that’s a perfectly viable form. Some of my best friends are relationship dramas first. But the symptoms remain: A To Z isn’t a very funny show, and the romance isn’t all that compelling. Mea culpa. The problem isn’t that A To Z isn’t funny enough. The problem is that A To Z isn’t anything enough.
Not to dance on any graves—A To Z has been canceled, although its remaining seven episodes will reportedly air—but A To Z just doesn’t make much of an impact. It’s not an avalanche of David Caspe banter. It’s not a delicately stylized Emily Kapnek joint. It has gimmicks galore, from the deadline hook to the admittedly diminishing use of apps, but there’s only so much time you can spend wondering why this relationship has an expiration date. The real issue is blandness. It’s a pleasant show, but you don’t walk away feeling much of anything. As delightful as Andrew and Zelda are, they haven’t had a single romantic moment like Eliza and Henry on Selfie listening to rain or practicing casual touching or standing next to the least majestic horse in the stable. And Selfie’s no further along than A To Z.
That’s not to say it’s not funny. The silliest, most universe-violating gag in the episode (which includes both Andrew operating a VCR and Lydia slapping two crowns out of the mouth of her human resources director in the middle of the office) is Stu deciding to Cato Andrew. By that he means trying to surprise Andrew into defending himself, named for the character in The Pink Panther series. Basically he’s trying to get Andrew to exhibit some manly aggression, because a guy on the street insulted Zelda and she stood up for herself in his place. Anyway, it’s a boneheaded gag, but it actually lands twice. The first time is when Stu informs Andrew that he won’t not Cato him. Right when Andrew realizes what he means, an old Pink Panther sound effect plays as he skedaddles out of there. The sound effect probably violates the universe, but at this point, whatever works. Throughout the episode Stu tries to Cato Andrew against his wishes, but the best is at the end. Andrew’s at Zelda’s, and they make up all sweet. The end credits are playing. Everything is telling you to let your guard down; the show’s over. And then Andrew sits in a chair that’s really Stu in disguise, and I couldn’t believe how effective it was. We need a chortle-type word to describe the simultaneous jolt and chuckle it gives you.
Lydia and Howard feel even more like filler than usual, however. She’s typically concerned with blind obedience in her drones, but doesn’t she have that already? Nevertheless she tries a few more approaches to leadership: mixing with them, frightening them, gaining their sympathy. While I did laugh when Lydia induces vomit in an employee by showing them her disjointed arm, mostly I wonder what you call comic relief that isn’t comic.
What Lydia and Howard do bring to the table is a thematic parallel showing how people respond to physical violence in different situations. A To Z may not provoke many strong emotions, but it’s pretty good at wading into relationship issues without judgment. “F Is For Fight, Fight, Fight!” is about a particular strain of gender essentialism. Zelda says she doesn’t want a musclebound bro and much prefers sensitive Andrew, but is that true? “Would Zelda dump him for a tough guy,” wonders Andrew via the narrator, “and would that tough guy be Channing Tatum?” The equally likely scenario, that Zelda would be turned off if Andrew got all macho on some dude, doesn’t cross his mind.
Dinesh and Lora think Zelda’s like every other woman on Wallflower. “Women on our site say they want sweet and sensitive, but they click on guys with abs and gelled hair.” They call it dissonance, which isn’t really a term they coined but is in fact the dictionary term you’d use to describe that phenomenon. But it’s a reasonable question. Liking bad boys is a cliché for a reason. Meanwhile Stephie falls for a pretty pair of pecs at the drop of a hat. Conventions of beauty are powerful.
Speaking of Stephie, there’s a promising moment at the end where she might become more than “the woman who’s into whatever her crush is into.” She finally swears off What’s His Tits, even after Zelda won him a bunch of money and he demonstrates his athleticism in a cutaway. Then Zelda asks a tremendously probing question to this woman who we’ve seen get into jazz simply because Stu was interested in her and pretended to be a jazz musician. Zelda asks, “What are you looking for?”
“Something like what you and Andrew have would be nice.” And that’s that. Instead of taking this moment to enrich Stephie, A To Z turns it into a support beam for the oft-spoken specialness of Andrew and Zelda. That moment isn’t about sincerely answering the question. It’s about nudging Zelda back toward Andrew after his screw-up of the week.
Turns out Zelda wasn’t lying about her preferences, and seeing Andrew fight someone—who turned out to be a woman in an Abraham Lincoln costume—“terrified” her. But Stephie reminds her how great Andrew is, and Zelda and Andrew share a cute rekindling scene where they role-play an ‘80s romance. It’s nice to see them playing, flirting, feeling each other out. Unfortunately “it’s nice” doesn’t have much staying power.
- Andrew tries to explain why he didn’t jump to Zelda’s defense: “That’s why I didn’t say anything when that guy called you a dirty ho.” Zelda: “Just ho. Why did you add a ‘dirty?’”
- Lydia tells Howard that his tantrum inspired fear in the workers: “You’re no longer viewed as some weird asexual nothing. Their words, not mine.”
- Frank’s “fixing leaky pipes” shirtless. Zelda: “He’s shirtless…why?” Stephie: “Oh, just, mostly for fun.” I knew I liked her.