Gifted performers and a fertile premise go mostly wasted in cable’s latest stab at the improvcom, representing another salvo in Lifetime’s new series initiative. Set at a Beverly Hills matchmaking firm actually located in (gasp) Tarzana, “Lovespring International” goes for the obvious gags and seems to find itself a lot cuter than most viewers are apt to. Were this a first date, the immediate reaction would be, “Really nice meeting you, but I don’t think this is going to work out.”
For starters, the scheduling is puzzling. The show airs at 11 p.m., even though there’s nothing particularly racy about the content other than the obligatory closeted gay guy, Burke (Sam Pancake), whose “tell” is that he has a fat, miserable-looking wife.
Beyond that, the cast includes the firm’s imperious owner (Jane Lynch, a veteran of the Christopher Guest-Eugene Levy school of feature improv), its ditsy receptionist (Jennifer Elise Cox, of the recent “Brady Bunch” movies), a not-so-suave psychologist (Jack Plotnick) and the staff videographer (Mystro Clark).
The most interesting character turns out to be matchmaking consultant Lydia (Wendi McLendon-Covey), who’s been in a 20-year committed relationship to a married man. In the second installment, she gets wooed aggressively by a rich, sensitive guy (“Will & Grace’s” Eric McCormack, one of the producers), though given that the conceit is these dating gurus are clueless about their own romantic entanglements, well, don’t start picking out china patterns.
Like too much improv, alas, “Lovespring” offers more in the way of tonality than chuckles, and that tone — wryly straight-faced, dour, snarky — grows wearisome after a while. In the interim, it’s easy to become restless waiting for something, anything, funny to transpire beyond people cross-talking uncomfortably.
The one real moment of inspiration actually doesn’t arrive until the closing credits, featuring outtakes where the cast breaks down laughing. Then again, the take-away message might be that they should have ditched the show and simply run its gag reel.
On its face this isn’t a bad idea, from the organically built-in product placement for a real Internet dating site to the quest for Mr. or Ms. Right’s universal appeal. Lifetime appears determined to shake off its stodgy image in favor of a younger and hipper one, and its series strategy is a logical step in that direction.
Still, in the context of delivering on the improvcom’s promise as established by “Curb Your Enthusiasm” and even more recent fare like Comedy Central’s “Dog Bites Man,” which also premieres this week, “Lovespring” comes about as close as Tarzana is to Beverly Hills.