A vanity project that lowers viewers into the middle of Ted Danson and Mary Steenburgen's bicker zone, CBS' "It Must Be Love" zaps the romance right out of Valentine's Day. What might have seemed like natural storytelling to them comes across as awkward and superficial to us.

A vanity project that lowers viewers into the middle of Ted Danson and Mary Steenburgen’s bicker zone, CBS’ “It Must Be Love” zaps the romance right out of Valentine’s Day. As with many real-life couples who feel the urge to perform together, these lovebirds force more than their share of moments; what might have seemed like natural storytelling to them comes across as awkward and superficial to us.

Still, it’s a surprise, considering the teleplay adaptation comes from Pulitzer-winning scribe Beth Henley, whose “Crimes of the Heart” ushered in a powerful legit voice in 1981 and earned her a 1987 Academy Award nomination. And Steven Schachter, so honored for last year’s Emmy-winning “Door to Door,” directs.

The problem here is that the premise is cutsied up to an inappropriate level. From divorce proceedings to a missing-persons search party, nothing is taken very seriously.

Successful architect George Gazelle (Danson) and dutiful wife Clem (Steenburgen) pack up their RV and head for the mountains. The trip has a purpose: After the wedding of their daughter (Erin Karpluk), they decide to split on friendly terms and take to the road to work out the details.

But what starts as courteous becomes contentious after George’s disclosure of an affair, and soon they’re arguing over every little comment. Things get really wacky when they get trapped in a blizzard, and are forced to help each other while rediscovering their true feelings.

As likable as the Dansons are, there’s that unconquerable obstacle that certain twosomes face — think Bennifer (“Gigli”) — which turns the performances into something less genuine; whenever they start to argue and pout, there’s a sense both of them are winking. On the flip side, whenever they cuddle up, it feels too schmaltzy.

What’s more, the incongruous execution of what would be a terrible tragedy is played with complete lightheartedness. The happy couple has gone missing for 10 days, yet everyone at the search center, including Princeton dropout son (Adam Frost) and the two mothers-in-law (Bonnie Bartlett, Polly Holiday) seem oddly unworried.

Filmed in Calgary, there’s neither a sense of place nor community that could have complimented the narrative. But the house — she lets him keep it, by the way — is very cool indeed.

It Must Be Love

CBS, Sun. Feb. 15, 9 p.m.

Production

Filmed in Calgary by Voice Pictures and Jaffe/Braunstein Films in association with Intuition Films. Executive producers, Wendy Hill-Tout, Michael Jaffe, Howard Braunstein, Keri Selig; producer, Irene Litinsky; director, Steven Schachter; writer, Beth Henley, based on a short story by Nancy Whitmore.

Crew

Camera, Jan Kiesser; editor, Jean Beaudoin; production designer, Jacques Bradette; music, Jeff Beal. 120 MIN.

Cast

George Gazelle - Ted Danson Clem Gazelle - Mary Steenburgen Mama Bell - Polly Holliday Kate - Bonnie Bartlett
With: Erin Karpluk, Adam Frost.

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