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NBC paints by the letters in new courtship comedy A to Z


Cristin Milioti and Ben Feldman are the featured matchup in A to Z. NBC photo

Premiering: Thursday, Oct. 2nd at 8:30 p.m. (central) on NBC
Starring: Ben Feldman, Cristin Milioti, Lenora Crichlow, Henry Zebrowski, with narration by Katey Sagal
Produced by: Ben Queen, Rashida Jones, Will McCormack, Bill Callahan, Michael Patrick Jann

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Charming and disarming without yet being exceptional, NBC’s breezy A to Z nonetheless comfortably wins this season’s boy-meets-girl bout against ABC’s similarly themed Manhattan Love Story.

The male half of the equation, Ben Feldman as internet dating company employee Andrew Lofland, is far more likable and appealing than Manhattan’s resident skirt-chaser. Cristin Milioti, co-starring in A to Z as lawyer Zelda Vasco, has a lesser edge over her wide-eyed Manhattan counterpart.

The NBC show is very precise about what it’s about. Recurring narration (from an unbilled Katey Sagal) tells viewers that Andrew and Zelda will date for 8 months, 3 weeks, 5 days and 1 hour before some sort of outcome is determined. “This television program is the comprehensive account of their relationship -- from A to Z.,” Sagal says at both the beginning and end of Thursday’s premiere episode.

Milioti ended up being “The Mother” a k a “The Girl with the Yellow Umbrella” on CBS’ How I Met Your Mother. Feldman ended up going mad and cutting off one of his nipples as ad man Michael Ginsberg on last season’s Mad Men. So obviously they were made for one another.

Andrew and Zelda have worked in the same office complex for two and a half months, but hadn’t made eye contact until she shows up to represent an aggrieved client. He’s immediately taken with her, but she’s “not really into the dating thing right now.” That’s only a temporary condition.

Both Andrew and Zelda are affixed with best friends. He gets the requisite schlubby, decorum-challenged bearded pal -- named Stu (Henry Zebrowski). She hangs out with Stephie (who retains her British accent from last season’s Back in the Game). The first episode soon turns on whether the girl in the silver dress, whom Andrew first glimpsed and longed for at an arena rock concert, in fact was none other than Zelda. Because if it was, then “this is meant to be.”

A to Z also has an amusing “Hoverboard” mini-plot tied to the Back to the Future movies. Were they in fact real but deemed too dangerous to be marketed? Lea Thompson drops in as herself to further clue Andrew in.

Milioti’s Zelda has a winning pixie-ish quality and Feldman’s Andrew is earnest and anything but a cad. So it’s easy enough to root for a successful courtship, with Andrew managing to sell the line, “Maybe I could use a little ‘meant to be’ in my life. Just a little.”

For now, the opening “A” in their relationship stands for “Acquaintances.” Perhaps they’ll stay on that letter for a while with high hopes of getting all the way to tougher hurdles such as Q, X and even Z. Quixotic? Xistential? (OK, that’s cheating). Zeitgeist?

Based on the opening episode, A to Z at the very least is agreeable.

GRADE: B-minus

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