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'Cupid' gets another shot at love

You can’t say “Cupid” (9 p.m. Central Tuesday, ABC; two and a half stars) hasn’t gotten a fair shot from the gods of television.

Rob Thomas, who later went on to create the cult detective drama “Veronica Mars,” first brought “Cupid” to the small screen 11 years ago. The original series, which was shot in Chicago and starred Jeremy Piven as a man who either was Cupid or thought he was that charming rogue of a god, lasted all of one season.

ABC decided to give Thomas and “Cupid” another chance, and though new star Bobby Cannavale is entertaining as the title character, it’s not entirely clear why ABC thought this slight premise was worth another go-round.

This feather-light romantic comedy certainly couldn't be mistaken for anything on another network. Just as CBS has cemented its reputation as the go-to source for dark, shadowy crime dramas, where dank basements, rain-slicked streets and Gothic color schemes are the norm, ABC shows (not counting that drama with the smoke monster) are resolutely upbeat and brightly lit.

Seriously. It's as if there was a sale at the lighting store and ABC grabbed every bulb in stock, lest a single corner of any of its shows remain in shadow.

Even the mid-season show "Castle," ABC's attempt at a detective procedural, is sunny and funny (at least that would appear to be the goal). Few gloomy outlooks or sour purveyors of sarcasm are allowed on the alphabet network, unless, of course, they sport McDreamy-style poufy hair or Sawyer's bewitching dimples.

The problem is, though this good-natured show doesn't lack for energy, “Cupid” is a little bland and formulaic. And it doesn’t help that, like so many shows of late, it features an irrepressible and charming male lead who is constantly hemmed in by an uptight and fairly humorless woman. Is it not possible for a woman on a broadcast network show to be a lovable rogue? Even a likable rogue?

Still, the slenderness of “Cupid’s” premise and characters might not matter if there were more sparks of love-hate chemistry in the mix. Alas, this is a romantic comedy without an abundance of sparky romance, at least between the show’s lead characters.

Sarah Paulson plays Dr. Claire McCrae, a psychiatrist who sees the problems of “Trevor Pierce” (that’s Cupid’s earthly pseudonym) as a mental malady. In her professional opinion, his goal—which involves uniting 100 couples in true love and thus regaining admission to Mt. Olympus—is a delusion, one most likely rooted in a psychic trauma, one that needs to be properly excavated and analyzed.

Not only is Pierce’s mission problematic, in her view, she finds his view of love as a passionate, intemperate and glee-inducing phenomenon almost dangerous. McCrae made her name writing self-help books full of sensible and practical relationship advice, and as far as she’s concerned, Pierce’s attempts to convince jaded New Yorkers of the irrational power of romance is bound to come to grief.

"Maybe you two would be better served by altering your expectations," she primly says to Pierce about his first "client," a lovelorn musician.

Yikes. Who would you rather have as your wingman? Cupid or Dr. Buzzkill?

Though Cannavale is a warm and instantly likable presence, Paulson may be a bit too stiff to make McCrae likable. Or maybe McCrae is just not that interesting of a character.

Still, it wouldn’t do to give up on “Cupid” after only one episode, which is all ABC provided for review. The pilot, which is well-paced and breezy, has to set up Pierce and McCrae’s relationship as well as introduce the question of whether this “god” is insane or not. Perhaps once those plot mechanics are more or less out of the way, love will bloom, or at least affection for these characters.


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