October 10, 2014

SHOWBUZZDAILY Pilot + 1 Review: “A to Z”


A TO Z:  Thursday 9:30PM on NBC

A lot can happen between the creation of a TV pilot and the production of regular episodes: writer/producers may be hired or fired, audience focus groups weigh in, networks and studios (which may have had their own turnover) give plenty of notes, helpful and otherwise, and critics start to rear their ugly heads. Tone, pace, casting, and even story can change. Here at SHOWBUZZDAILY, we look past the pilots and present reviews of the first regular season episodes as well.

Previously… on A TO Z:  Dating website marketer Andrew (Ben Feldman) and lawyer Zelda (Cristin Milioti) have had their meet-cute, they’ve discovered that the office windows in their adjacent buildings overlook one another, so they can signal each other during their work-days, and now they’ve embarked on their relationship, which the series will chronicle in all the months, weeks, days and hours of its life, as the omniscient narrator (Katey Sagal) tells us.  (Every episode is titled after the next letter of the alphabet after the pilot’s “A”.)  Each has been allotted one friend who teems with terrible advice–Stu (Henry Zebrowski) for Andrew, and Stephie (Lenora Crichlow) for Zelda–and in addition, we also follow the goings-on at Andrew’s office, notably through clueless boss Lydia (Christina Kirk) and hapless coder Dinesh (Parvesh Cheenah).

Episode 2:  The character names, the episode titles, the narrator, the cutely synchronized flashbacks and personality traits–if there was one thing A To Z didn’t need, it was more gimmicks.  But the show’s second half-hour, written by Co-Executive Producer Ryan Koh and directed by Michael Patrick Jann, couldn’t leave barely-well-enough alone.  Once it developed that before meeting Zelda, Andrew had set up a date with a co-worker and felt that he had to tell Zelda, and then Zelda, at Stephie’s advice, decided to go out with someone else as well, the episode turned into an exercise in “app stalking,” as each character raced through Yelp, Facebook, tracking apps and others to keep electronic tabs on the other through the evening.  And that wasn’t all:  if it wasn’t sufficiently cute that Zelda had followed the first date with Andrew by buying him a tiny vanity license plate with his name, Andrew had independently assembled a tiny vanity plate for her, because they don’t make those items with the name “Zelda,” and her receipt of this excruciatingly thoughtful gimcrack brought on yet another gimmick, with her having a matching celebratory tune in her head for the one we’d already heard in his.  Although it was difficult to discern the actual plot behind all this, it was a ridiculous, sit-commy story that included Zelda’s date taking off his shirt when he stopped by her house (to have documents notarized!!) because he’d sweated through the garment–just at the moment when Andrew showed up, of course.

The sad part about all this is that when series creator Ben Queen allows A to Z to stop all this foolishness and simply have a scene with Milioti and Feldman together, the show is quite charming, and both leads are likable both individually and together.  The show is so larded with cleverness, though, that it takes an ice-pick to chop through the layers surrounding those scenes.  (In addition to all of the above, there was also a B story with Lydia, Dinesh and guest star Ben Falcone, regarding an extremely Tinder-like app that the dating site was testing on its own employees, which Lydia didn’t think was working because no one was “tapping” her.)  A to Z is like a homemade video where a hyperactive child jumps in front of the camera and obscures the interesting thing that’s going on in the background; you want to tell it to just calm down.

The initial ratings for A to Z were bad, and that, along with the fact that The Blacklist is coming into its timeslot in February, suggests that the show is unlikely to have much time to work itself out.  If that happens, it won’t be a tragedy.  But A to Z does have potential, and in the context of this fall’s other sitcoms, it’ll be a little bit of a loss if the show can’t make its way past the midpoint of the TV season’s alphabet.

ORIGINAL VERDICT:  If Nothing Else Is On…

PILOT + 1:  T Is For Too Much Clutter



About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."