If one of the main signifiers of romance on television is the will-they/won’t-they standard, A To Z is in the position of being the they-will-until-they-won’t deviation from the mean. In opening narration from Katey Sagal, the show announces that Andrew (Mad Men’s Ben Feldman) and Zelda (How I Met Your Mother’s Cristin Milioti) will have a whirlwind romance for exactly eight months, three weeks, five days, and one hour. The first episode is called “A Is For Acquaintances,” and it’s fair to assume the rest of the episode titles will proceed alphabetically. Thankfully, the end is not dwelled upon in the beginning, so the beginning is what fills the pilot. Created by Ben Queen, who is joined by Rashida Jones and Will McCormack (who previously collaborated on the Jones-starring Celeste And Jesse Forever), A To Z has the potential to be a sweet romantic comedy—if it doesn’t get caught up in its own quirks first.
Andrew and Zelda are introduced as a “guy’s guy” and a “girl’s girl,” although there’s little in the pilot that confirms those descriptions. Instead, Andrew is a romantic who works at an online-dating site, while Zelda is a do-gooder lawyer with an inherent distrust in relationships. They work at the same office park, but destiny fails to bring them together until Zelda shows up at Andrew’s place of business, leading to their courtship. Andrew’s insistence that Zelda is potentially his soulmate threatens to tear them apart; it doesn’t. There’s still at least eight more months of this to go, Sagal reminds the audience. (Through no fault of Sagal’s, the mere presence of the voiceover borders on cloying.)
Feldman and Milioti are both such ingratiating screen presences that their affability holds the pilot together. Milioti, in particular, is adept at grounding Zelda, employing the same timing and comfort with snappy dialogue that made her one of the sole bright spots during How I Met Your Mother’s final season. Feldman, in his first major romantic lead, is a more awkward fit as Andrew—the dialogue he’s sometimes sidled with doesn’t help. “This place used to do real matchmaking,” following a company mandate to encourage hookup culture. “The only things we connect anymore are penises and vaginas.” It’s difficult to say a line like that and really sell it, especially when it’s followed up with, “I know. Isn’t it great?”
The response comes courtesy of Stu (Henry Zebrowski), the requisite womanizing best friend of any romantic male lead, seemingly placed in the lives of these otherwise sane men in order to assure any potential XY viewers that they’re not rooting for, gasp, a wuss. His female counterpart, Zelda’s friend Stephie (Being Human’s Lenora Crichlow), doesn’t fare much better. Stephie feels shoehorned into the pilot, arriving in its latter half as the type of woman who sponges up the interests of her boyfriends, like Ann Perkins with a British accent. Of the supporting characters, Andrew’s boss (Christina Kirk) feels like the character with the most breakout potential, a soulless businesswoman trying to make money off of the practice of love.
This television season is marked by the dawn of the rom-sitcom. Inherent in that new genre is how romance is now so reliant on technology: It’s not just boy-meets-girl, but boy-meets-girl-but-needs-to-friend-her first. Technology as a means of finding love isn’t anything new, but it’s beginning to be integrated into the very idea of meeting a new person much in the way that meet-cutes are integral to the rom-com. In ABC’s Pygmalion update, Selfie, technology is purposefully obtrusive. It’s used to broad effect, mirroring main character Eliza Dooley’s utter reliance on it: text message bubbles pop up on-screen, Instagram accounts are writ large. It’s like an intentionally shallower version of Sherlock’s technologically based thought process.
But the way A To Z works technology feels like a natural part of these people’s lives. And not just because Andrew works at an online dating site: The show concerns two young people are falling in love and this is how those crazy kids do it these days. It’s to A To Z’s credit that Zelda scrolling through a Twitter feed or Andrew waiting for a a text-message response feels like it’s part of the fabric of the show, rather than joke setup or a plot device. A major turning point in the pilot even involves how technology has erased privacy in the Internet age. While it’s a conflated idea of Internet stalking, it doesn’t feel out of the realm of possibility for the Internet-inclined. This use of technology is why A To Z feels different and modern—not its conceptual episode-titling convention.