By Tom Shales
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, October 3, 2008
"The Ex-List" stands an unfortunately good chance of becoming an "ex-series" before very many weeks have passed. Then again, I said that about "The X-Files," too, and it managed to straggle through.
"The Ex-List" is a romantic comedy, not a fancy-pants spook show. But like "X-Files," it has a promotable gimmick that could help it find a few fans -- literally.
If only the premise or the show were as bright as the light in the heroine's eyes. Elizabeth Reaser is a happy revelation as 33-year-old Bella Bloom, a single woman who learns from a gabby, temperamental old shrew of a fortuneteller that all her clocks are running out. If she doesn't marry a man within the next year, she is told, she is doomed to live in lonely singlehood all the rest of her life.
Reaser is the best reason to watch, beautiful even when unwisely dressed very hookerly, by whoever is in charge of costumes. That costumer is messing with class, but though Reaser looks uncomfortable in some of the outfits, she is always very comfortable in the part, making us believe that Bloom exists, and encouraging us to hope she finds the soul mate she longs for.
CBS's "Ex-List," debuting tonight, appears to be the only new fall show to be based on an Israeli TV series, something called "Mythological X." The American title is better, but the premise is apparently identical -- something vaguely resembling NBC's "My Name Is Earl," about a male listmaker determined to right the wrongs he's committed over the years and thus improve his "karma" and promote inner peace. Bloom isn't after anything that ethereal, though; she wants a mate and immediately sets about finding one.
She gets precious little help -- littler than it is precious -- from a flock of friends who do nothing but sit around all day, sometimes soaking their fannies in a child's inflatable swimming pool (a grim omen of what we all might be doing should unemployment reach, oh, 80 percent) and shoot the breeze to death.
Why such a happening gal would hang out with these slackers and losers is not easy to figure -- especially considering that one of them, your proverbial dumb blonde, appears to be obsessed with pubic hair, especially her own. Apparently all this chatter is supposed to be shocking or edgy or both, but it goes on so long that rather quickly, it turns desperate. When the recently denuded woman contemplates getting herself a merkin (a word once used in the title of a movie, but mercifully scarce since), many a viewer will want to mutter a repulsed "Oh, brother."
In the premiere, and presumably in each future episode, Bloom looks up an old boyfriend on the grounds that she might have loved him and left him too quickly to appreciate his subtler charms. But Boyfriend No. 1, a soulful, mush-mouthed composer of achy-flaky ballads, actually gets to do some dumping of his own, and in a semi-ingenious way that you will see only if you stay to the bittersweet end.
Things do not look good for the show in other ways, even besides its unenviable Friday night time slot and its humdrum supporting cast. Diane Ruggiero, who adapted the Israeli series for American TV and wrote tonight's premiere, announced early last month that she was leaving the show over that usual Hollywood bugaboo, creative differences. She wanted to go one way and CBS executives wanted another.
Now "Ex-List" is like a stock in which very few people are likely to invest. But those adventurous souls who do tune in will discover in Reaser an adept, attractive and hugely alluring comic actress. When better roles come along, she will get them.
The Ex List (one hour) premieres tonight at 9 on Channel 9.