Following 10 twentysomething New Yorkers who span the personality spectrum and seek anything from casual sex to the one, Mixology is built around what it thinks is a clever little gimmick: The show is set entirely on one night in a bar, a sprawling labyrinth of a place called Mix. Barring some flashbacks, the whole first season will take place in that single location. “Claustrophobic” is an adjective rarely associated with an airy sitcom about finding love, but Mixology is one of the most unintentionally claustrophobic television shows ever created.
At first, it seems like a cute idea. By the sixth episode, it feels like the characters are trapped in a Kafkaesque-nightmare from which there is no escape. Entire plotlines revolve around moving from one section of the bar to another. Characters briefly run outside to talk to each other before being inexorably drawn back in. Everyone’s all smiles with their banter and mild, ABC-flavored sexcapades, but there’s a creeping feeling that comes with every passing week.
That is, of course, not Mixology’s intention. It is not building to the reveal that Cthulhu dwells in Mix’s basement and is working his foul mind-magic on the romance-addled brains of the main cast. The show is just trying to find a new spin on the same premise audiences see rolled out on network television year in, year out: a bunch of bland folk at varying stages of their lives getting into dating high jinks. You could also call it the “hangout sitcom,” as shows like How I Met Your Mother or Happy Endings rely on their tight ensembles regularly meeting up, often at the same bar.
Mixology is simply taking that formula a step further. Unfortunately, it’s more and more a formula that feels leaden and old-fashioned. How I Met Your Mother debuted on CBS nine years ago. Back then, the character of womanizing Barney Stinson was hardly original, but Neil Patrick Harris at least put a fresh spin on it, taking a role that could’ve gone to a burly Jack Black type and making it his own.
Mixology has a Barney Stinson type (or Joey Tribbiani type, etc.) too: Bruce, who’s played by stand-up comic Andrew Santino. With his bushy red beard, Bruce is unconventionally attractive, and much like Barney and his ilk, he covers deep insecurity about his adolescence and former nerd status by aggressively pursuing ladies in quantity, not quality. With Barney, the more you learned about him, the better you felt about the character; with Bruce, that patience runs thin fast. Bruce quotes imaginary rules of picking up women endlessly, yelling at his soft, sensitive buddy Tom (Blake Lee, irritatingly bland) for caring too much and being a wimpy pick-up artist, encouraging him to go after the drunkest, loneliest, and most vulnerable women. There is a lot of talk of “smashing” ladies and endless similes about picking up women like it’s an endless war. It’s tiresome to begin with, and the predatory aspect of the character now feels hopelessly out of date.
Mixology has a big enough ensemble that it can present the dating game from multiple angles, but almost all of the angles it picks are stale and predictable. Ron (Adam Campbell) is a failed transatlantic Internet millionaire who is recovering from a life of debauchery; every line delivery appears to have been preceded off-camera by a director screaming “MORE BRITISH! MORE BRITISH!” Jessica (Alexis Carra) is a single mom who’s just looking for a fun night out; Maya (Ginger Gonzaga) is a brutally harsh sports attorney who frequently makes grown men cry; Liv (Kate Simses) is engaged to a boring dope and secretly wants to take a walk on the wild side.
Every romantic pairing is easy to predict, but since there’s 13 episodes to fill, ridiculous mishaps and twists are thrown in everyone’s way to keep things interesting. The attempt fails, and while the show tries to shock with risqué dialogue and situations, they largely fall flat. Mixology is at least an interesting attempt at a tired formula, but the formula can’t help but win out nonetheless.