A to Z Review: “E is for Ectoplasm”

(Episode 1.05)

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

As long as I can remember, I’ve loved Halloween episodes. On the holiday itself, I’m lukewarm, but seeing my favorite characters celebrate has always given me the same joy as when a friendly neighbor dropped a treat in my bag. Knowing that those TV shows I loved existed in worlds where Halloween also existed grounded them in a sense of reality I’ve always longed for, and gave me a connection to those fictional characters I’ve always desired. It may be silly, but it’s true.

A to Z’s first, and likely only, stab at the Halloween episode will not be one I revisit come the end of October next year. The show has, since its pilot, hovered in a limbo of mediocrity that has left me both hopeful and annoyed, though more the latter than the former. It’s not an offensively bad show by any means, it’s just spectacularly boring.

The best comedic element in “E is for Ectoplasm” was not a comedic element at all. It was the insistence that Andrew and Zelda’s relationship is somehow different. “For any other couple, a month would be nothing,” Stephie says at one point near the end of the half-hour, “but for you guys it feels different.” But, it doesn’t. Nothing about Andrew and Zelda’s first month together, which has unraveled at a painfully slow pace, felt different. It felt expected. The show played out the same romantic-comedy clichés that I expected it to, adding nearly nothing new or interesting to the usual obstacles all couples face early in their relationship.

This week, it was about how a new relationship affects the best friends. It’s not worth it to tell you anything beyond that, because nothing worthwhile occurred. Perhaps more dismaying, though, was how badly the only subplot was squandered. It involved Andrew’s boss, Big Bird, hosting a party for her dating website’s “Golden Couple.” That is, a couple that met on the site (Wallflower, it’s called) and fell madly, deeply in love. What Big Bird finds, however, is that people matched by Wallflower’s algorithm are more likely to murder each other than fall in love. More likely to murder each other. This had me genuinely intrigued, but it was thrown away so quickly, I didn’t even feel right mourning the loss, for I hardly knew it at all. Right now, A to Z feels like a show that desperately wants to have fun, but doesn’t quite know how. It needs to loosen up. It’s a romantic-comedy, yes, but that doesn’t mean every single plot needs to revolve around something pertinent to Andrew and Zelda’s relationship. This show is too stuck to its premise, which can only take it so far. I’m thankful the first month is over, unless they plan to take just as long showing me month two. By month three, I’ll be gone and, at this point, so will A to Z.

It’s hard to pinpoint where the wrong turn took place because it hasn’t turned at all, and that’s the problem. It has stuck with the mundane ins and outs of infant love that bored me in the first episode. There have been small moments of promise, thanks in part to particularly well-crafted scripts from a select few talented writers. Though, if we’re striving for honesty here, by “scripts” I mean one—episode three. “C is for Curiouser & Curiouser” was the best this show has been, and it was mostly not bad. A good start. A point from which to build. Instead, the writers have lit that solid base aflame. The performances are still solid, and the actors’ charisma should be enough to pull an episode through, but it hasn’t been the last two weeks. Ben Feldman and Cristin Milioti, flanked by Henry Zebrowski and Lenora Crichlow have little to work with, and it seems even they have begun to realize it.

?It’s so hard to judge new comedies. Still firmly in the gestation period, it seems almost unfair to critique them at all, knowing how difficult growing pains can be to get through. But it’s also not hard to see true potential, and though I’ve seen flashes in the last five weeks, more often, I’ve seen staleness. Maybe it’s because of the holiday, because of my love for these episodes, but the way forward for this show has never seemed darker. A to Z should think long and hard about what Halloween is, a day to be anyone other than yourself, and then revel in it. It could stand to benefit from being something different.

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