A to Z Review: “C is for Curiouser & Curiouser”

(Episode 1.03)

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<i>A to Z</i> Review: &#8220;C is for Curiouser & Curiouser&#8221;

Significant others are often the most damning critics.

A mere two seconds into last night’s episode of A to Z, the series’ third, my girlfriend declared she didn’t like the show. Granted, it was an instinctual reaction to Katey Sagal’s voice over, easily the most inane aspect of the entire production, but it was a reaction I had expected and, frankly, a feeling I’d shared (for the most part) after the show’s first two episodes. Then the show did something I didn’t think it was capable of: It surprised me.

Episode three, “C is for Curiouser & Curiouser,” showed the potential of A to Z. Last week, I wrote that the show would never be a top-tier comedy, something worth structuring your night around, the way NBC past-greats like 30 Rock and The Office were. I’m not ready to rescind that statement, there’s still much work to be done, but if A to Z continues its current trajectory, it will easily be the best new comedy the network has placed on Thursday nights in years. The only thing holding it back is basic plot. So far, no situation the characters have found themselves in has been remotely interesting. Last night was no different.

In the third half-hour of the freshman comedy, Andrew and Zelda mined the territory of each other’s secrets or, rather, the things they would like to have kept hidden, but couldn’t keep from the long-reaching arms of the internet. It’s not a terrible premise, but it was, ultimately, boring. Thankfully, the writing staff of A to Z seems to be replete with smart, snappy scribes. The episode lived, and thrived, in the small moments, quips between characters and well-crafted one-liners. It’s where the show will continue to live, which isn’t entirely a bad thing, until the writers feel confident enough to move beyond the typical relationship storylines. Andrew and Zelda are slated to date for just over eight months. Only a portion of that time can be filled with the early stages, in which storylines involving secrets, or exclusivity come easy. Eventually, they will reach the comfortable stage, where the two will become characters who happen to be dating, not characters endeavoring upon a new relationship. Once that time comes, the writers will have to invent more creative plots, which they certainly are capable of, given their ability to make a boring storyline entertaining in other ways. They would be wise to move to that stage sooner, rather than later. Rushing things is no worry; Andrew and Zelda have been together for a week and are already discussing marriage. And the sooner the writers find themselves challenged to make these lovebirds captivating once the honeymoon has set, the better.

Until then, A to Z is in, surprisingly, good shape. The show can, and hopefully will, be kept afloat by the aforementioned quality writing, and the stellar cast. I noted early on that Cristin Milioti and Ben Feldman could string this show along long enough for the writers to catch up. Well, the writers have caught up faster than anticipated, but the sentiment remains the same. Feldman and Milioti continue to grow, both together and apart, each becoming evermore grounded in their roles. More importantly, though, the supporting players are giving equally nice performances, especially Henry Zebrowski as Stu, whom I praised last week as well. This week, even Lenora Crichlow’s Stephie was more than palatable (thanks in part to a fun storyline involving lots of Stu and lots of hatred). Even further out you’ll find solid bit-performances from Christina Kirk, as Andrew’s odd boss (who resembles a certain large, yellow bird), Parvesh Cheena and Hong Chau, as two of Andrew’s more bizarre co-workers.

?A week ago, I was quick to state that “nothing about A to Z is surprising.” That remains somewhat true after the third episode. But, the show has surprised me in the most important way: Its continual improvement. It’s not yet ready for the big leagues, nowhere near the top comedies on television, but it’s inching ever-closer to being truly worth watching. If your significant other is quick to write it off, tell them to sit down and stay a while; they might just like what they see.

Eric Walters is a Detroit-based freelance writer and regular contributor to Paste. For more of his TV musings, follow him on Twitter.