The summer season, as far as network television is concerned is here. It started of with some old favorites of summer numbness, good entertainment and introduces a few new shows as every year. Just yesterday I read a piece by Mary McNamara in the LA Times about the embarrassment that networks live through at the Emmy Awards, with all the big awards firmly in the hand of cable television. No longer is HBO the only danger, but the original programming of AMC, TNT, FX and company have given the big three a run for their money lately.
NBC’s new series Love Bites is a beast of a different nature than those cable stations’ lauded dramas and comedies however. While long form narratives have become, not only to academics, what is considered Quality TV (although the term itself obviously is problematic for its value judgement) to many, and complex story arcs a way to keep audiences returning to the tube on schedule (as long as their DVRs are not in the game at least), Love Bites takes a different route, one that is appropriate for light summer watching, funny, entertaining, and awkwardly rewarding to watch.
The series does not center, as much as return on occasion, to its main protagonists, which only have personal story arcs with the life span of a mayfly at this point, and I doubt that the series will plunge into further depths. Yet, the characters are all without exception relatable and likable. The episodes are divided into individual fragments that have little or no connection with each other, but that connect to the staple cast. Friends, neighbors, co-workers all woven into a tapestry of a collection of best-of romantic comedy moments.
It is a bit like real water-cooler talk: Have you heard what so and so did with so and so and have you heard that they did this and that… And so by way of NBC those of us staying at home during the summer can indulge in the best moments of love stories only, or the funniest. For someone like me, who is not a fan of the ever-so-repetitive romantic comedy or “chick-flick”, this is all I’ll ever need. The acting is over the top but appropriate for the lightheartedness of the anthology style series, the cast boasts of talent, the stories are endearing and relatable, and it will (or should) make any one laugh out loud at least once per episode. Thus far that is.
Each fragment stands alone and not all fragments are equal, but there is a rhythm to the line up. Funny, emotional, and a little serious at times each story with an episode has a moment that makes it work, makes it click, makes it great. The second episode addressed homophobia, with an elegant twist, sexual fantasies, with a compromise, and commitment anxieties, with a learning curve. What’s not to love about Love Bites?
On a larger scale, innovative episodic television (read: not cop show, not hospital show, not competition reality TV) across network and cable stations appears to have settled into the summer season. (And you could hardly get more episodic than an anthology style series.) Only TrueBlood remains in the summer slot, and Showtimes’ 30min “comedies” Weeds and the Big C. If we will see more anthologies is doubtful, but who knows. While episodic television has fallen below my radar on more than one occasion (I am an addict to long form narratives), this one will be my fun watch, my entertainment, but never my guilty pleasure. What it does it does to perfection, which makes it quality TV to me.
Producer Cindy Chupack comes from Sex and the City and the guest-cast boasts of familiar faces such as Kurtwood Smith (70s Show), Frances Conroy (Six Feet Under), Jennifer Love Hewitt (Ghost Whisperer) and Beau Bridges (coming in episode 5).