We gave it a B
Anything But Love (ABC, Wednesday, 9:30-10 p.m.) is back, and it’s better than ever, but is that enough? This sitcom stars Jamie Lee Curtis and Richard Lewis as prime-time’s most self-conscious couple, and it’s one of television’s more intriguing series. Canceled last year after a season and a half, Love was quickly raised from the dead by ABC — perhaps because the network didn’t have much else in its production pipeline to replace it. Now, as a mid-season entry with an 11-episode guarantee, Love is taking steps to generate fresh interest: Bruce Weitz — Belker from Hill Street Blues — has joined the cast as a gruff, Jimmy Breslin-ish columnist for the weekly magazine that Hannah (Curtis) and Marty (Lewis) work for. Guest star John Ritter, who just happens to be one of the show’s producers, is playing Hannah’s other love interest for the first three episodes of this new run. And in the fourth episode, Hannah will have rejected the advances of John Ritter’s character and will hop into the sack — finally! — with good old neurotic Marty.
Anything But Love has always had great, but puzzlingly unfulfilled, potential. Curtis and Lewis are highly unusual sitcom leads: an actress whose film career (Blue Steel, A Fish Called Wanda, the forthcoming Queens Logic) would suggest that she doesn’t need television work, paired with a stand-up comic whose trademark neurotic pessimism makes Woody Allen seem like a giddy schoolboy. The series’ chief supporting character is the magazine’s editor, Catherine, played by Ann Magnuson, an acclaimed New York performance artist.
Smart, if risky, casting, right? Sure, but the laughs on Love are anything but regular — the show’s unpredictability extends to the arrival of a good punch line. Love is funniest whenever it sounds as if Lewis is writing his own lines. ”I know that as a 30-year-old woman, you’re just hitting your sexual peak,” Marty tells Hannah in an upcoming episode, ”but I hit mine during the Tet Offensive.” Throwaway lines like the one in which Marty says he doesn’t enjoy housecleaning (”You think nature abhors a vacuum…”) could have come straight from Lewis’ nightclub routine.
But for all the renewed energy, the series is still uneven. I wouldn’t be surprised if Bruce Weitz is already studying the fine print in his contract for a way to get out — so far, he’s had nothing to do except look grumpy. Of the principals, Magnuson has fared best this season: With her dithering eccentricity and aggressive flirtiness, Magnuson floats above any given show’s plot — she’s a walking, talking non sequitur in the middle of a literal-minded show.
If you’ve tried Love and didn’t much like it, give it another chance: Tune in for that fourth episode, tentatively scheduled for March 6, which not only features Curtis and Lewis as charmingly awkward lovers, but also includes funny parodies of The Front Page, three Tennessee Williams plays (Lewis as Marlon Brando in A Streetcar Named Desire — in a black T-shirt, of course — is particularly choice), and Twin Peaks (Magnuson as the Log Lady: ”My log tells me we have to assign a profile of Julia Roberts”). If they can keep up this sort of thing, the show will be anything but dead.