Rarely do the gods of network television grant second chances, but ABC’s heart seemed somewhat struck by its 1998 series Cupid. A dramedy about a man who’s convinced he’s the god of love, the show starred Jeremy Piven as the possibly delusional, possibly mythological Trevor Hale, who, claiming to have been kicked out of Mount Olympus because of poor performance, insists that he (sans bow and arrow) must hook up 100 couples before he’s allowed back into the pantheon. Naturally, this mindset lands him in the mental hospital, where he’s assigned to über-rational psychiatrist and self-help author Claire Allen. The flustered voice of reason to each of his whimsical matchmaking plots, Claire spars with Trevor over their views on love, opening up a blatantly obvious window of romantic opportunity. As bankable as the premise seemed, ABC canceled the series after one season, despite a small committed fan base. Eleven years later, show creator Rob Thomas has been given another shot at the show that got away. With his Veronica Mars laurels on, Thomas simply copied and pasted the same plot onto a new cast and sent the show off on its merry way.
A few details, of course, have been tweaked: the setting is New York City rather than Chicago, and Trevor Hale is now Trevor Pierce, played by a Jersey-accented Bobby Cannavale with a cocksure grin and cavalier swagger. But even with the lazy makeover, Cupid still feels sitcom-stale. The new incarnation might have beguiled back in the days when the Scully-Mulder personality dichotomy between Trevor and Claire still seemed fresh, and Sex and the City had yet to exhaust the idea of concluding episodes with self-reflective voiceovers, but given the edgier entertainment landscape of the last decade, Cupid can’t keep up in terms of dialogue depth and character originality. By the first four episodes, its creative tricks have already proven paper-thin.
Ending each episode with a happily matched couple is one thing, but when the match can be predicted five minutes in, the rest of the hour can become tedious. Character motives are also often incredulous, like Claire’s decision to bring Trevor to a singles group she oversees. Though her intent is to give him a reality check on love, does it never cross her mind how the offer may come across to a man believing he’s a mythic matchmaker? “Singles group. Perfect. Fish in a barrel,” says Cannavale when he’s invited. Exactly.
Cannavale lays on the charm rather thick, but, for the most part, he carries the role with enough animated panache to keep Trevor engaging. His chemistry with Paulson limps along, relying too much on the clichéd banter that pits her cautious approach against his impulsive perspective. Likewise, the references to Greek and Roman mythology are hit or miss, sometimes subtly clever, sometimes clumsily hit-you-over-the-head. Claire’s job as a psychiatrist alludes to Cupid’s wife, Psyche—a witty touch. But then, like a groan-inducing pun, Cannavale quips in the third episode, “I was a chunky kid myself, everyone called me cherubic.” Le Sigh.
Mostly saccharine with a few smatterings of genuinely tender moments, Cupid is like those sweetheart candies you got every year as a kid: a breezy gesture of sweet intentions, but did anyone actually like eating them?