'Undateable' seeks summer romance

Posted: May 30, 2014

* UNDATEABLE. 9 and 9:30 tonight, NBC10.

"I'M CURIOUS to see if you can launch a big show without network stars anymore."

After the cancellation of shows starring Michael J. Fox and Robin Williams, I'm curious to see if you can launch one even with them, but that was TV producer Bill Lawrence ("Spin City," "Scrubs") in March, during a pass through Philly to promote "Undateable," a new sitcom for NBC that at the time didn't even have a premiere date. (It launches tonight in two back-to-back episodes.)

What "Undateable" did have in March, however, was a comedy tour featuring four of its stars - stand-ups Chris D'Elia ("Whitney"), Brent Morin, Ron Funches and Rick Glassman - that, not coincidentally, was visiting cities with major NBC affiliates.

It's not the first time that Lawrence has taken to the road to promote a project: A few years ago, he and the cast and writers of "Cougar Town," which hadn't yet moved from ABC to TBS, were sponsoring viewing parties for fans in cities across the country.

His approach to "Undateable," the show he created with Adam Sztykiel, wasn't so much an innovation, though, as it was a throwback to a time when introducing shows to the affiliates, and maybe in the process winning a little more promotion for them, was the way business was done.

"Undateable," too, is a bit of a throwback. Filmed in front of a live audience (but not on CBS), it's not exactly high-concept, despite the title, which comes from Ellen Rakieten and Anne Coyle's book Undateable: 311 Things Guys Do That Guarantee They Won't be Dating Or Having Sex.

Most of it takes place on two sets, one an apartment in Detroit, the other a bar owned by Justin (Morin), one of the guys who lives in the apartment. His new roommate, Danny, is played by D'Elia, whose recently divorced sister (Bianca Kajlich, "Rules of Engagement") will also be found hanging out at the bar, where Funches and Glassman, along with David Fynn, are regulars.

Briga Heelan, from Lawrence's TBS comedy "Ground Floor," has a recurring role as the waitress with whom Morin's character is in love, but Lawrence said that "Undateable" was aiming for "Cheers," not "Friends."

"Multi-camera shows are so much about chemistry," he said, and in casting this one he decided that it would be easier to start with "people who are friends in real [life]. These four guys - three of them have known each other for more than 10 years, two of them lived together, the other one's toured with them for six years."

He also wasn't looking for anything too complicated.

"It's hard to say this without sounding negative," Lawrence said, but when he pitched "Undateable" to NBC, he told executives, "I want to make a show that it's just not that taxing but it's just fun, fun to watch. I mean that you wish that you were hanging out there at the bar."

I'd argue that most of Lawrence's shows - and most TV comedies - eventually become about just this, finding people you're willing to hang out with who don't demand too much. Beyond alcohol, anyway.

D'Elia was the only reason I ever found for watching "Whitney," and "Undateable" starts out as a showcase for him, as Danny sets out to teach everyone around him his commitment-free path to bliss. By a few episodes in, though, it's not Danny's odd-couple relationship with Justin that demands attention as much as the ensemble itself.

Turns out there's plenty of funny to go around here, but if you're not prepared to break up every time Funches weighs in, you're probably not a match for "Undateable."

Phone: 215-854-5950

On Twitter: @elgray

Blog: ph.ly/EllenGray

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