by Tony Dayoub
CBS sent me the pilot to their new romantic comedy, The Ex List, set to debut on October 3rd. Based on a hit Israeli TV series, Mythological X, it was developed by Diane Ruggiero (Veronica Mars) and stars the charming Elizabeth Reaser (Grey's Anatomy).
The premise is intriguing. Reaser plays Bella, a cute, but self-absorbed, flower shop owner. Out for her sister Daphne's (Rachel Boston) bachelorette party, they visit a psychic. The psychic is shockingly accurate regarding Bella's recent breakup with Elliot (Mark Deklin), telling her she must get married within the year or she will never marry anyone the rest of her life. If that isn't enough pressure, the man she is supposed to marry is someone she has dated before, leading to the creation of the titular ex list.
This sets up a premise that follows one of the more interesting aspects of another female fan favorite, Sex and the City. Where Cashmere Mafia and Lipstick Jungle have failed is in trying to duplicate the Sex and the City formula too closely, four women with some dissimilarities brought together by their travails in the dating world. Don't forget that the chemistry between the four was developed over time as the actresses brought their individuality to each role. But the original premise was a lot simpler. It was about the women's dating experiences with men, and the quirks one encounters in these transactions. Rather than forcing casting chemistry down our throats, The Ex List pursues this lesser premise to greater comedic effect.
Bella reunites with an old beau (Eric Balfour), a singer she broke up with because he was too emotional. He now leads a grittier punk rock band when she sees him in concert, where he opens his set with a song called "Bitch!" that we quickly realize is about her. As she tries her best to convince him that she should get another chance, his tough facade slowly erodes, revealing the same sensitive soul inside. But is she able to deal with a softie all over again?
The glamour and gender-centrism of Sex and the City are dropped, and The Ex List instead focuses on the dating nightmares as Bella and her slacker support group swap dating advice. Her closest friends in that group include (straight) males as well as females, and she bonds with them while surfing one afternoon, a decidedly more down-to-earth backdrop than the standard NYC club of the week. This gives The Ex List a fresh take on a generic rom-com premise while still hearkening back to its popular HBO antecedent.
Reaser recalls Sarah Jessica Parker, in a petite yet tough kind of way. And the west coast locale suitably spins the premise away from the cliche territory of the current crop of like-minded comedies. Also, nice to see that her family will have some say in her dating life, with sister and Dad (NYPD Blue's Gordon Clapp... nice to see you back) in the mix, a notable dimension that was unrealistically missing from Sex and the City, where we never met Carrie's family.
I do wonder how they'll handle that one year marriage deadline if the show goes beyond the first season. And I worry that, at this point, her most recent ex, Elliot, predictably seems to be the one destined to marry her. But I'm interested in seeing who Bella's next ex/prospective husband will be.
Keep in mind that pilots frequently change before airtime. But if viewers get to sample the show as I did, I think they'll keep coming back.