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TV Series Review

Do you remember the days when on TV men were men, women were women and children only appeared in the living room to say something cute? Do you remember when wacky neighbors would barge into your apartment unannounced, when couples slept in separate twin beds and every stray comment was bolstered by a laugh track?

No, I don't either. And, apparently, neither does Perfect Couples.

Couples were the crux of comedy back in those good ol' days of yesteryear. From The Honeymooners to I Love Lucy to The Dick Van Dyke Show, nothing was funnier than watching a man and woman navigate the strange, choppy waters of relational life. Birthday parties, promotions, surprise visits from John Wayne … everything was good for a laugh. And yet these shows shared some basic commonalities: Gender roles and responsibilities were rooted in valued tradition; expectations were fixed. Granted, the characters rarely met those lofty ideals … but at least they knew what they were. While real life back then was in many ways as chaotic and confusing as it is now, television provided a strangely comforting reminder of what "normal" was. Our parents and grandparents would flip on the television, see Desi and Lucy, and think to themselves, That's what a couple looks like. Minus the bongos and pratfalls and the horse in the living room of course.

Now stop clicking that dial, skip forward through several decades and select NBC's Perfect Couples from your onscreen DVR menu. It's a case study in how far we've come—for better in two or three contexts, for worse in all the rest.

Perfect Couples' very name blends into the television landscape like grass on a golf course. My editor had to ask me twice what I was reviewing this week—and that was after he'd seen one of the episodes. I can hardly blame him. Was it Perfect Strangers or Less Than Perfect or Almost Perfect or Nobody's Perfect or Perfect Catch or Perfect Scoundrels or Perfect World or Perfect Match or Little Miss Perfect or … you get the idea.

The show itself is equally undistinguished. It features three primary pairings—and never you mind if marriage is part of the picture or not: Vance and Amy are the volatile ones, fighting constantly and enjoying wild rounds of makeup sex. Rex and Leigh power through their relationship like triathletes, reading the best books, following the hippest advice and giving each other disturbing levels of aggressive support—pushing themselves to "win" whatever couples competition they've manufactured in their minds. Dave and Julia are the show's everyman and everywoman anchors … centers of relative normalcy in their friends' sea of weirdness.

They're ostensibly trying to navigate what it means to be a couple. But in the end they do more to mirror our confused times than find any salient answers about what works and what doesn't. Lots of people in the real world aren't exactly sure what roles they should be fulfilling as men or women or couples. And Perfect Couples is all about echoing their floundering. So there are no good role models here. And that's part of the point. Shut up, Mr. Van Dyke, the show says. Whaddya know about it anyway! Leigh and Rex, the couple doing the most to fulfill traditional television tropes, are the show's least sympathetic characters by far.

Preoccupied with sex and self, these couples wouldn't recognize a twin mattress if it fell from the attic. So while Perfect Couples has smatterings of fun, insight and even tenderness, it's about as far from perfect as Alice was from actually getting sent to the moon.


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Episode Reviews

PerfectCouples: 3172011
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