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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

The Ex List: "Pilot"

Illustration for article titled iThe Ex List/i: Pilot
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Illustration for article titled iThe Ex List/i: Pilot

Before we get into it, there are two things I wanted to say up front:

1) This show is pretty good.

2) That news couldn't have come at a worse time.

Adapted from Israeli sitcom Mythological X, The Ex List was created by Diane Ruggiero, who cut her teeth primarily on Veronica Mars as a writer. (If you haven't seen seasons one and two of that show, you're missing out.) She gave the show her own flair and edge, and all was well with the world. But CBS started meddling, and told Ruggiero she was diverging too far from the original X plots, and requested she get back on track. This proved too much to ask of Ruggiero, who left the show for creative reasons a few weeks ago. In her place, CBS hired Rick Eid to executive produce, and made sure everyone knew the creator of the original Israeli show was going to be consulting. Given that Eid's credits include no comedy and mostly crime drama–namely, plenty of Law and Order–I'm not quite sure how long this show can last.

But Ruggiero worked on six episodes before leaving, so we've got a bit of her work to look forward to–if this Friday night death slot doesn't kill the show first, that is.

It's a shame, really, because upon first glance, The Ex List has legs. The set-up itself is quite crafty: Thirtysomething Bella takes her sister to a psychic as part of a bachelorette party, but receives her own reading–she needs to meet the man she's destined to marry within a year, or she'll be alone forever. The catch is that she's already met, nay, seriously dated him. This opens the door naturally to infinite guest stars–a simple way to drum up ratings and excitement–and allows them to structure the episodes differently each time, depending on the ex being featured.

Front and center is Elizabeth Reaser, most notable from her guest star stint on Grey's Anatomy as Broken Face/Ava. Thanks in large part to her, the show's premise works. Her Bella doesn't totally buy into the whole psychic thing, but shows frustration when the signs keep coming. She also has a tendency to brush through the dialogue, which has the danger of coming off as disengaged; but here, Reaser makes it seem conversational, so even Big Message Lines–all the stuff about how she was ready to get married to her latest ex, and the ensuing repeat jabs at his inability to commit–feel natural.

Of course, Ruggiero's wit is on full display, especially throughout Bella's re-run with her rocker/crybaby ex boyfriend Johnny (played by Eric Balfour, expert at playing "lovable, though kinda inexplicably creepy" dudes). I loved the flashback scene in particular: Johnny's playing guitar on the street, singing some song about Bella with the line "You're in my soul." He tells her he's been having a stream of consciousness about writing a rock opera for the two of them, then adds, "Wanna get tattoos together and drink each others' blood?" Bella's had enough; she breaks up with him right there–to which he adds, weeping and awkwardly, "It's my birthday." It came as no surprise to me that even with a story that could have easily been a throwaway–she's not going to find love in the first episode, after all–Ruggiero made it believable (despite Johnny's obvious insecurities, Bella sticks with it because he's a face-touching guy, "and there aren't a lot of face-touching guys out there") and kept it unexpected (to the tune of a revenge song about Bella dying alone with cats around her).

Some of the episode didn't quite hit its target: I wasn't really digging the whole vagina-shaving storyline–it's original and all, but it went on for quite a long time–and I didn't really get a sense that they've figured out how to utilize Bella's friends–especially Cyrus, who aside from some pretty funny lines (about getting sexually harassed at a nursing home), seems like an ancillary guy who happens to live with them. But give the show some time, and I have no doubt it will come into its own.

That is, I would say that, except now I'm not so sure…Damn.

Grade: B+

Stray observations:

- When was the last time a merkin made its way to network TV? No really, when? I ask because I don't know.

- Bella's additional defense of Johnny to her friends: "He meant drink blood…in a nice way."

- Is it just me, or do all the women on the show look, like, really skinny? Not ridiculously so or anything, but it's something that bothered me throughout the episode.

- I believe there are only 11 episodes of Mythological X, so in theory this show could go all Office and outlast its foreign inspiration. For what it's worth.

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