I really want to like "Romantically Challenged", Alyssa Milano's new sitcom on ABC. I've loved Alyssa since the "Who's the Boss" days and adored her in Charmed, and when I first heard about "Romantically Challenged", I was just happy she would be back on TV. However, through two episodes of the show, I've got mixed feelings.
First, let's hit on the good things. I was worried that "Romantically Challenged" was going to be the kind of show that tried to convince me that woman as attractive as Alyssa Milano has trouble getting dates, but that's not it at all. She plays a divorced mom who's also a lawyer and jumping back in the dating pool after finding out her ex-husband is getting married. Somehow, that's actually worse. It's like they spun the wheel of Sitcom Character cliches a few times and came up with that.
Then the show surrounded Milano with a series of one-dimensional sidekick characters. I know it's hard to provide much character development in 44 minutes (the total of the two episodes that have aired so far), but the characters shouldn't feel so much like they came from paint-by-numbers guide on how to write a sitcom. There's the dirty talking sister who's kind of a freak in bed but has an inappropriate job (elementary school teacher), the sensative guy who just hasn't found the right woman yet (and will probably end up with the main character in the end) and his best friend, an overgrown man-child who is a sex-crazed moocher, but also a really good friend in the end.
Maybe I've been watching too much "30 Rock", but I thought we'd moved past this kind of sitcom. If it weren't for the raunchiness of the sex jokes (which is pretty much what carries the first couple episodes), it would entirely fit in with the NBC sitcom lineup of the mid-'90s. Even the whole setting -- apartments and coffee shops -- seems pulled right from the "Friends" playbook.
Considering how many development changes the show went through, it's not surprising that the final product feels so generic. At various points in development, the show was supposed to center around the 30-something single guy character, then was supposed to focus on him and his girlfriend (when Milano was brought on), then focused on Milano. There's definitely a watchable show somewhere in "Romantically Challenged", but it's stuck beneath layers of mediocrity, and the worst laugh track on television (seriously, I cringed every time it came on. It was like it was playing after lines that weren't even jokes). It's not the worst new show I've seen this year (Hi, "The Cleveland Show", how've you been?!), but it's not a winner either.