'Undateable' finds laughs in unattractiveness

Bill Harris, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 12:43 PM ET

We've all been undateable at some point in our lives, and sadly most of us have the pictures to prove it.

“When we pitched the show, we brought pictures of ourselves at our most undateable,” said Bill Lawrence, executive producer of the new sitcom Undateable, which debuts Thursday, May 29, with back-to-back episodes on NBC. “For me, I had peroxide blond hair and earrings and I just looked desperately like a kid from Connecticut who so badly wanted to be cool. It was really bad.

“Everybody on earth, men and women, goes through an undateable phase, due to bad jobs or insecurities or money or the way they dress. Most of us get out of it. But this show is about a group of friends that are stuck there a little bit.”

Lawrence, who is best known for his previous sitcoms Scrubs and Cougar Town, has taken a different approach with Undateable, in both casting and tone. The first one leads to the second one.

Casting-wise, Undateable largely stars a group of standup comedians – led by Chris D'Elia, who you'll recognize from the sitcom Whitney, alongside Brent Morin, Ron Funches, Rick Glassman, David Fynn and Bianca Kajlich - who for the most part all knew each other previously.

“Part of the battle in a sitcom is making it seem like people are friends and have chemistry,” Lawrence explained. “In the modern landscape (of TV), you have only a couple of episodes to establish that. So part of the idea behind this show was casting people that are friends in real life.”

Subsequently, either by design or circumstance, Undateable has more of a punch-line or zinger vibe than Scrubs or Cougar Town. For better or worse, Undateable aspires to be more accessible than those other series, which essentially fall into the category of clever critical darlings.

“One of the burdens we put on (the cast of Undateable) is to riff,” Lawrence said. “We do one take of the script and then we let all these comics say whatever the heck they want. You can sometimes see people actually laughing in the episodes, which you don't usually see on shows. They’re laughing because they’re hearing things for the first time.

“I'd say the pilot is about 20% (improvised by the cast), but then (in later episodes) it switches to 50-50.”

Hmmm, 50-50. Considering NBC hasn't granted this show an attractive time of year to launch, might 50-50 be optimistic when appraising Undateable's chances of survival? Additionally, there's a slight threat of viewers finding Undateable mildly depressing if the laughs aren't coming frequently enough.

“But if I went and pitched Cheers tomorrow and said, 'It's about an alcoholic bartender who can't stop having empty relationships and the people in his bar hate their lives so much they just want to sit on chairs all day,' I think it would be a hard sell,” Lawrence reasoned.

Hmmm, fair point. I guess an alternate title for Cheers could have been Undateable.

So pass the peroxide. Not to be taken internally, of course.

Twitter: @billharris_tv

Bill.harris@sunmedia.ca


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