The critical hostility exhibited at the TV Critics Assn. tour to “Manhattan Love Story” felt puzzling, since being broad, derivative and slightly backward is hardly a new set of misdemeanors for network comedies, perhaps especially at ABC. Granted, the show’s central device — getting to hear the innermost thoughts of the central guy and gal — is straight out of the subtitled feeling-out exchange in “Annie Hall,” but at least the show’s leads are reasonably appealing. Clearly, though, the whole Venus and Mars thing, explored via internal monologue, is not only a slim conceit, but risks becoming quickly tedious.
Analeigh Tipton’s Dana is new to Manhattan, having just been hired by a publishing firm even as it engages in what euphemistically might be called “belt-tightening.” As such, the other employees not only resent her, but fear she’s just a less-expensive newbie recruited to do their jobs.
Taken in by her yoga-teaching former sorority sister Amy (Jade Catta-Preta), she’s fixed up with Peter (Jake McDorman), the skirt-chasing brother of Amy’s husband (Nicolas Wright). To drive home the point that women and men think differently about relationships, Peter is introduced walking down the street musing on which women he’d have sex with (pretty much all of them), while Dana strolls the same avenue in the opposite direction lusting after expensive purses.
OK, so too cute it is, and enlightened it’s not. Tipton in particular is nevertheless sweet and vulnerable as the wide-eyed Dana — described by Amy as “not like the bimbos (Peter) normally dates” — while the aptly named Peter is yet another of those handsome TV never-grow-up types (see “About a Boy”) who really has a heart underneath his porcine patina.
Created by Jeff Lowell, “Manhattan Love Story” simply gets carried away with its central device in the pilot (and dials it down a bit, notably, in a second episode). So while Dana and Peter chat over dinner and privately contemplate whether they’re going to wind up in bed, she frets about having not shaved her legs, and he wonders, “Did I leave porn lying around?”
Like so many romantic comedies — especially when stretched out for TV — the real trick involves finding enough twists and obstacles to develop this relationship, which moves forward pretty quickly, while providing the audience an incentive to care. By that measure, the show appears to have put too much faith in its gimmick, and too much weight, at least initially, on the shoulders of its leads. Nor does it help that the series has been paired with another new sitcom of questionable strength, “Selfie,” which seeks to achieve a similar tone.
That said, to borrow one more note from Woody Allen’s filmography, “Manhattan Love Story” feels guilty less of crimes than misdemeanors. Besides, in sitcoms, love means never having to think you’re sorry.