Dating services thrive on the premise that there is somebody out there for everyone. “Love, Inc.,” an affable new sitcom from UPN, is a nice match for viewers hankering for a feel-good laugh or two. But if the Thursday night TV schedule were a dating pool, “Love, Inc.” would be the proverbial old maid.
Up against ratings behemoths like “CSI” and “The Apprentice,” “Love, Inc.” is the sole comedy in its timeslot. NBC has “Night Stalker,” UPN’s got “Everwood,” and Fox is holding on with the ho-hum “Reunion.” Unless viewers are willing to look outside their three-network comfort zone and forgo the usual inertia, chances for a long-term relationship with “Love, Inc.” seem slim.
Series debuts with a quirky vibe, personable cast and snappy writing from former Conan O’Brien scribe Andrew Secunda. “Love, Inc.” is a big-city dating service, the brainchild of Clea (Holly Robinson Peete), a savvy businesswoman who has promoted her company on the basis of a successful nine-year marriage. Suffice it to say that by the end of the first episode, that PR campaign is scrapped when her hubby ditches her for a much younger woman.
To get herself back into the dating world, she enlists the help of friend and co-worker Denise (Busy Philipps), a bubbly single gal who excels at counseling others in the art of wooing while her own love life remains a shambles. Denise is a pro at dating — it’s the relationship part that gives her trouble.
Denise, “the Kung Fu master at setting up freaks,” doesn’t follow “The Rules,” but she’s not going to win feminist of the year either: Her advice includes such pearls as what is acceptable to eat on a date (for women, it’s practically nothing), Kenny Rogers music is always a mistake, and a cell phone with a “Star Wars” ring tone is the kiss of death.
In fact, everyone in the office pitches in: Francine (Reagan Gomez-Preston) offers style advice (she tells Clea her outfit says, “I coach women’s basketball”), Barry (Vince Vieluf) works the tech angle and offers head-scratching non sequiturs while Viviana (Ion Overman) the receptionist solicits personal information in a rather startling way.
But Clea’s reluctance to get back in the game is the least of Denise’s problems. When Denise’s old college flame shows up as a new client, she mistakenly thinks he’s there just to win her back.
As Denise, Philipps creates a nice blend of daffiness and neurosis for the character — a seemingly better choice than Shannen Doherty, who was originally considered for the role.
Robinson Peete is a good “straight man” to Denise, delivering the laughs without the physical muggings, and the two share a nice rapport.
Supporting perfs veer toward the stereotypical or at the very least smack of the bawdy and politically incorrect humor like that of “Will & Grace’s” Karen, although not as well executed.
The modern dating scene is a veritable gold mine of material, and one has to hope Secunda taps into fresher stuff if he wants to attract the fickle eye of the TV viewer.