The tone of “The Ex List” could have many CBS viewers double-checking the channel they’re tuned to — its brazen emphasis on sexuality, lives out of balance and the lack of consequence thereof being more familiar themes on CBS’ pay cabler Showtime. But there’s a twinkle in the eye of this hour, which straddles drama and comedy, especially in the perf of lead actress Elizabeth Reaser, which makes it suitable for the timeslot. Commitment has been a problem for Reaser’s character Bella Bloom and it may be one for audiences as well; there’s enough heat to warrant a second date, but not enough sparks to guarantee one.
Bloom’s single and in her 30s, a successful florist with a cadre of friends who prod and cajole her after a psychic informs her she has a year to get married — to someone she has already dated. It’s a given that every episode will in most ways resemble the pilot: Bloom reconnects with a boyfriend, dissects what went wrong, tries to rekindle the romance and then splits in either humorous or devastating fashion. The lives of her slacker friends will intersect around this milieu.
Up first in the husband hunt is an overly sensitive musician (Eric Balfour) who emotionally suffocates Bloom to the point that — try as she might — she decides he’s not the one. Deception ensues until he eventually gets the last laugh, a gutbuster at that.
Subplots involve her retiree father (William Russ) and sister Daphne (Rachel Boston) plus longtime friends Augie (Adam Rothenberg), his girlfriend Vivian (Alexandra Breckenridge) and Cyrus (Amir Talai). Dialogue by Diane Ruggiero is sharply written and realistic, observational and unhurried. It remains to be seen, though, whether 9 p.m. Friday viewers are ready for the debate over Vivian’s new Brazilian.
Final scene of the pilot — outside a collection of bungalows — gently reinforces the feeling of family this quartet radiates. For all the angst that dominates Bloom’s mission, the final scene has a lovely settling element even when it taps into commitment — this time via a shared dog and the most recent ex-boyfriend. Credit for that likely belongs to Ruggiero, who departed as showrunner over creative differences with the network. Altering the sharper and sexier elements of the show could doom it; in the pilot, sex is used as a communication tool, a rare note in primetime network television.
Rather than star quality, Reaser exudes comfort in every scene, a “take-it-easy” kinda gal who forsakes ambition for contentment — she likes the skin she’s in. Whatever panic she displays in this rushed search for Mr. Right, it quickly dissipates; controlling fate is her character’s mission, but self-fulfillment for herself, friends and family sits a rung above marriage. For now.
Ensemble is the usual collection of quirky dramedy types, but the bond between them feels substantial without being forced. Emotional and situational settings are well reflected in the sunshine of San Diego, the presence of which is sensed if not explored.