Continuing the midseason network trend toward sitcoms that center on young men with stunted social development and the attractive professional women who are inexplicably drawn to them, this jaunty spring comedy from “Mad About You’s” Danny Jacobson tends to make up in quirky personality what it lacks in genuine cleverness. As a bonus for Disney/ABC, this sub for the limbo-locked “Ellen” fairly revels in its heterosexuality. And what goes better with straight people than pizza — unless it’s pizza in Boston?
As the title “Two Guys, a Girl and a Pizza Place” strongly implies, the comedy is set inside a Beantown pizzeria where longtime pals Berg (Ryan Reynolds) and Pete (Richard R. Ruccolo) are working their way through grad school as delivery guys. They share an apartment and regularly hang with their neurotic upstairs neighbor, Sharon (Traylor Howard of NBC’s “Boston Common”), a textbook passive-aggressive who has mixed feelings about her big-money job selling chemicals. She loves driving the Beemer but tends to get guilted-out over all of the wildlife she contributes to killing.
“One more client for me, one less species of bird,” she says ruefully.
The other primary characters here are the ebullient Melissa (Jennifer Westfeldt) — Pete’s girlfriend, whom he spends the pilot trying to dump — the gruff pizza joint boss, Bill (terrific work from Julius Carry), and the delusional, yarn-spinning Mr. Bauer (a spirited David Ogden Stiers).
Stiers, a “MASH” alum, very nearly steals the opener outright as a pizzeria regular who spends his hours weaving tales of his personal adventures that bear a striking similarity to famed film storylines (“When I fired the bullet into the shark’s mouth, the tank exploded!”). It’s supremely entertaining farce.
Premiere teleplay by Jacobson and producers Kenny Schwartz and Rick Wiener tends to harp too long on Pete’s angst over what to do about his girlfriend and not enough building up of the odd-couple relationship be-tween the boys. Pete is the buckle-down architecture student. Berg is the devil-may-care eccentric who earns extra money testing asthma medicine for a condition he doesn’t have.
Both Reynolds and Ruccolo are appealing leads, Howard somewhat less so. But characters aside, it won’t help the chances of “Two Guys, a Girl and a Pizza Place” that it lands on ABC’s sked already sounding dated — detailing as it does the fact that Britain’s lease on Hong Kong “is running out.” It actually ran out last July, right around the time the first six episodes of this show were being produced for Fox (they never aired, allowing Jacobson to shop the series around and find a willing taker in ABC).
Whether the series, bolstered by Mark Vogel’s peppy score, has the goods to seal the fate of “Ellen” — whose future evidently hangs on the performance of “Pizza Place” — is anyone’s guess. But it’s got some potential. Sometimes, you want to go where everybody knows your favorite toppings.