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TV Review: ‘A to Z’

With:
Ben Feldman, Cristin Milioti, Henry Zebrowski, Lenora Crichlow, Christina Kirk, Hong Chau, Katey Sagal

Charm is a relatively scarce commodity among this year’s new comedies, and “A to Z” has it. A slightly cryptic narration says the show will follow Andrew and Zelda (get it?) and offer “the comprehensive account of their relationship.” Perhaps appropriately, “How I Met Your Mother’s” Cristin Milioti stars opposite Ben Feldman, since this feels — based on first impressions — like the logical heir to that just-departed sitcom in terms of intersplicing unabashed romance, whimsy and the smallest of mysteries into a promising package.

Said mystery resides in the aforementioned narration (delivered by Katey Sagal), which foretells that the duo will date for a little less than nine months. But there are, obviously, a lot of things a couple can do after that length of time, among them “M” (marry) or “B” (break up).

For Andrew (providing “Mad Men” alum Feldman a slightly less neurotic character), who works at an online dating site, his encounter with Zelda is love at first sight — or rather, second sight, if she’s the girl he remembers having fleetingly seen years earlier. A lawyer by trade, she’s far more guarded, despite the requisite prodding from her friend (Lenora Crichlow) to take a leap of faith.

Written by Ben Queen, “A to Z” fares better when it’s exploring the central romance than seeking to conjure moments of zaniness, some of them courtesy of Andrew’s eccentric friend Stu (Henry Zebrowski). There’s also a coyness about the construction (the first episode is subtitled “Acquaintances”) that raises some red flags about just how many times the show can run through the alphabet before the soup starts to taste stale.

Still, the premiere (receiving an early preview online to boost interest) does foster empathy for the two, as Feldman and Milioti advance the case that casting — perhaps especially with romantic comedies — can sometimes be half the battle.

In a more clear-eyed and cynical way, NBC has done the show no favors by slotting it behind “Bad Judge,” about as incompatible a pairing as one could imagine. For now, though, “A to Z” at least makes a good case for wanting to see how it gets to “Friends” and “Lovers,” and then just sort of seeing what develops  from there.

TV Review: 'A to Z'

(Series; NBC, Thurs. Oct. 2, 9:30 p.m.)

Production: Filmed in Los Angeles by Le Train Train Prods. in association with Warner Bros. Television.

Crew: Executive producers, Ben Queen, Rashida Jones, Will McCormack, Bill Callahan, Michael Patrick Jann; co-executive producers, Theresa Mulligan Rosenthal, Ryan Koh; supervising producer, Laura Gutin Peterson; producers, Jeff Grosvenor, Matthew Zinman, Craig Gerard; director, Jann; writer, Queen; camera, Joe Kessler; production designers, Nina Ruscio, Cat Smith; editor, Jeff Seibenick; casting, Tim Payne, Lisa Ystrom. 30 MIN.

Cast: Ben Feldman, Cristin Milioti, Henry Zebrowski, Lenora Crichlow, Christina Kirk, Hong Chau, Katey Sagal

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