Premieres Thursday, May 29 at 8pm on NBC.
There once was a time when a show was given an opportunity to find itself. Long-running and widely praised sitcoms like Seinfeld and The Office got off to rocky starts, but eventually blossomed into ratings juggernauts. But those chances are few and far between. Undateable is one of those series that benefits from a little time. While it comes out of the gate a bit slow with a premise that feels tired, over the course of several episodes it succeeds in embracing its more unique qualities, blossoming into something far more interesting.
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After losing yet another roommate to marriage, Danny (Chris D'Elia) goes in search of a new co-habitant and winds up meeting Justin (Brent Morin). The owner of a bar called Black Eyes (it sounds like "Black Guys" when you say it out loud, a joke that doesn't work nearly as well as the pilot thinks it does), Justin seems like the type of guy who has everything figured out but it turns out that the bar is really more of a clubhouse where he and his trio of socially inept male friends hide from the rest of the world. After watching Justin hopelessly pine for bartender Nicki (Briga Heelan), Danny is motivated to impart his womanizing wisdom on his new pack of awkward barfly friends.
Timing is everything in comedy, and the squicky gender dynamics in the first episodes of Undateable could hardly be arriving at a worse moment. This is not to say that its "women be like this and so men be like that" jokes would have been particularly well-received before the #YesAllWomen hashtag revolution, but it certainly wouldn't come off hopelessly tin-eared as it does. The truly frustrating thing about Danny and his sister Leslie's (Bianca Kajlich) clichéd definitions of how men and women relate to each other is that the show is perfectly capable of generating humor that has nothing to do with that unimaginative view of things. The show's supporting cast, lead by Ron Funches, David Fynn and Briga Heelan, serves as a perpetual palette cleanser and reminder that this show is perfectly capable of dealing out jokes that don't make you cringe.
Of course, this isn't the first time that co-creator Bill Lawrence has presented a sitcom with a slightly icky premise. This is, after all, the man that brought us Cougar Town, a show that began with the idea of Courteney Cox trolling for young men and evolved into a charming hang-out comedy about a bunch of goofy winos with a verbose lexicon of in-jokes. So it's both refreshing and not completely surprising that, a few episodes in, Undateable begins to shed its more off-putting qualities and focus on its quirkier side.
Undateable's success at digging itself out the early hole it's dug can largely be attributed to cast of performers that excels at bringing fresh approaches to their fairly familiar characters. D'Elia's Danny plays as obnoxious alpha male on paper, but he's delivered with a fascinating eccentricity, frequently acting out his educational metaphors in highly amusing displays of physical comedy. When, in a later episode, he is both incapable of understanding or pronouncing the word "insecure," it is endlessly hilarious.
Heelan is basically playing another version of her character from Lawrence's Ground Floor (and her commitment to that show is why she disappears for a few episodes). Just as she shines there, she continues to be funny and adorable here. Fynn adds some extra hilarity as the crew's recently out gay friend who's just as terrible at speaking to men as his buddies are to women. But the constant and perpetual MVP of Undateable is the infinitely talented Ron Funches. Gifted with a cadence and delivery that makes just about anything that comes out of his mouth comedy gold, Funches is the cuddly, comic sniper of this ensemble, at times making it seem like everyone else is just there to set up his punchlines. He alone is worth the price of admission.