Tom Cavanagh, late of Ed, now of Love Monkey, is a charming guy: Innately affable, adorable within reason, he can convey both smarts and decency while bouncing through outlandish comedy. So who better to anchor this new CBS series, based on Kyle Smith’s witty, High Fidelity-style book about an affable, smart, decent Manhattanite and his bumpy search for love?
True, Cavanagh’s character, Tom Farrell, is considerably more adorable here than his literary counterpart, who describes himself as ''the Gap of bachelors.'' But that’s TV. The more mystifying tweak to the novel is the decision to switch Tom’s occupation from tabloid headline writer to an earnest music A&R guy. His job is to scour the country looking for talent, and Tom makes a discovery in young singer-songwriter Wayne (played by young singer-songwriter Teddy Geiger). He stakes his job on Wayne, only to get the boot from his bottom-line-obsessed boss (played by Eric Bogosian, who makes everything better much like salt). Both Tom and Wayne land at a smaller, ''real-er'' label, which points ominously to overtly sincere plotlines. (One episode actually features the phrase ''good music for a good cause.'')
Love Monkey seesaws awkwardly between this music-biz intrigue (don’t care) and Tom’s big-city-cool social life (wanna care). Tom’s buddies include Married Friend (90210’s Jason Priestley), Womanizing Friend (Ray’s Larenz Tate), and Sports Friend, a former professional baseball player (Christopher Wiehl, who also played a professional baseball player in CBS’ Clubhouse and a professional football player in ESPN’s Playmakers typecasting, anyone?). Tom has potential love interests in gorgeous music-nerd co-worker Julia (Mind of the Married Man’s Ivana Milicevic) and his girl-who’s-a-friend, Bran, played by the lovely Judy Greer (Arrested Development). Unfortunately, Greer’s forced to bury all her well-honed comic timing beneath Bran’s clichéd urgings to Tom to grow up, pick a girl, and settle down.
For all the amiability of the cast, few of their interactions feel natural. Too much of the dialogue is dialed one notch too high on the precious scale, and the actors try to sell the banter by speaking in that super-quick stream-of-consciousness gush that no one uses in real life. It feels forced: Many of the jokes arrive with labor sweat dripping off of them. One entire scene is devoted to explaining the curiously dated ''Grant’s Law'' that all men are like Hugh Grant, who despite having a gorgeous girlfriend at home (Liz Hurley) will want someone, anyone, else (in his case, Divine Brown). A good comedy rule: If your joke needs a PowerPoint presentation, it’s not working. The Sex and the City women spawned their catchphrases within the course of natural, witty conversation. It can be done.
The dramedy could work its kinks out, especially if more time is given over to Cavanagh and Greer. The delicate politics of platonic male-female friendship have yet to be fully mined for comedy, and these two could pull it off splendidly. As long as the writers respect a few realities, like, a good female friend would never tell a guy to grow up and settle down. That’s what girlfriends are for.