Miss Match, the airy romantic comedy on NBC (Fridays, 9 p.m.) produced by Sex and the City’s Darren Star, is one of those shows that I watch, enjoy, keep watching, continue to enjoy, but can’t think of much to say about, which may be why I haven’t discussed it before. But given its low viewer numbers and perilous status (NBC has ordered five new episodes, but it was a close call), I’ve decided it’s time to put my shoulder to the wheel and give it whatever boost I can.
So much of what’s on television is overblown that one’s first reaction to Miss Match is to be grateful for the many things it’s not. This is a show that has no big themes and presses no buttons. It avoids sentimentality, is sugary without being saccharine, sexy without being smutty, and doesn’t have a mean bone in its body. It’s also consistently amusing without ever trying to be laugh-out-loud funny. In other words, it’s an oddity — though a refreshingly sane and uneccentric one.
Our heroine is Kate Fox (Alicia Silverstone), divorce lawyer by day, intrepid matchmaker by day, night and twilight. Think of a female Cupid crossed with a personal trainer and you’ll have some idea of what she’s like. (Finding that Perfect Someone takes time! It’s work! You have to get out there and hustle! Now practice saying, “You look really beautiful today” 50 more times!)
Actually, that makes her sound far too aggressive, which she isn’t at all, so perhaps the personal-trainer analogy is wrong. Cupid crossed with your best friend might be a better one. Kate, who gets some of her good humor, if not her morals, from her cheerfully venal lawyer dad and boss (Ryan O’Neal), is one of those rare people who is wealthy, happy and beautiful all at the same time, and her mission in life seems to be to try to make everyone around her feel the same way.
Like the character Silverstone played in Clueless, Kate has a knack for putting people together. In fact, she’s so drawn to putting them together that she can’t quite find the time to keep a boyfriend for herself. Instead, she wanders West L.A. like a matrimonial sculptor, creating unforeseen unions out of an organic-fruit farmer here, an ambitious television producer there. At first she does it on an amateur basis, while trying hard to concentrate on her day job, which is all about dealing with separation, hurt feelings and seized assets. But before long she goes pro, while still working the divorce beat. After all, it’s a good way of finding potential clients, even if they’re on the rebound.
A matchmaker has to be a psychologist of sorts, and Miss Match, the person as well as the show, is particularly good at discovering the behavioral quirks that make or break a potential pairing. It is also open to the mystery of why people who would seem to be ideally suited for each other somehow aren’t. And if you happen to be looking for some dating tips, and a good-natured guide to what pleases prospective lovers and what doesn’t, you could do worse than sit in on a couple of Kate’s tutorials. In any case, it’s always a pleasure to watch her calm down a nervous or romantically incompetent client over lunch.
The show casts a kindly eye on the pleasures of the bedroom, and has a genuine sweetness that can’t be faked. Its belief that finding one’s soul mate is a job of sorts puts the American work ethic right on the tip of Cupid’s bow. In that sense it’s old-fashioned, a million miles from the callow double entendres of a show such as Coupling or, for that matter, Sex and the City. In one of my favorite bits of dialogue, a very satisfied female client of Kate tells her: “I’m having the best sex of my life! I mean, we’re talking multi- . . .” Kate cuts her off firmly: “Got it,” she says.
And then there’s the superb acting, the sharply etched major and minor characters. Silverstone and O’Neal make a winning father-daughter team, convincingly loving not least because they’re not constantly professing how much they mean to each other, like so many TV dads and daughters. Actress Lake Bell is easy on the eyes as Kate’s best friend, Victoria, and James Roday is amusingly twerpy as Kate’s egotistical office mate Nick. Even the character of the law firm’s receptionist is expertly and charmingly played by Jodi Long.
But in the end, the show lives or dies by the actress in the leading role — the blond, ever-smiling Silverstone, a ray of sunlight in human form. I say it lives.