As one producer noted at the recent Television Critics Association press tour, this seems to be the year of the romantic comedy. FOX has Traffic Light, CBS has Mad Love, but NBC is striking first with Perfect Couples. I sat down Monday with one of the stars of that show, David Walton, to ask him why the genre's suddenly popular and how situation comedies look when you're actually trying to pull one off every week.
Your show is the first of, apparently, a new wave of relationship comedies that are headed to the air this season. FOX has Traffic Light in February and in April CBS is rolling out Mad Love. Why do you think this type of show is suddenly popular?
I have no idea. Maybe it's a competitive thing. They get wind that there's a relationship comedy and they don't want to miss out.
As an actor, how do you feel when you're doing a show and then you find out that there are very similar shows being rolled out? I might be a little miffed.
I'm not miffed at all. It's a simple show. There's no high concept. It's about three couples and the trials and tribulations of newlyweds and starting to be adults - really little moments that end up being funny. I think shows should be about some of the little moments. I think people always respond to real moments. We don't have a laugh track; with this show, they just tear through the jokes. There's some really subtle stuff.
What separates your show from the others in its field? It does seem like we've seen the show about the relationships of attractive young people over and over again.
A lot of them are classic. I think NBC's really sort of high-class comedy but they're all in the workplace, so there seemed to be a hole for a high-class comedy about relationships. [The NBC comedies] are kind of very cerebral, experimental stuff with comedy, and our show is kind of that there's no big idea.
What's in store for Vance this season?
At the end of the pilot, I get engaged. I'm in a very passionate, hot-and-cold relationship; we get engaged at the end of the pilot. The whole first season is our engagement period, which can be quite traumatic. We're soulmates who'd have been a lot happier if we'd never met. We have this connection but none of the tools for a healthy relationship.
Comedy seems to me like it's the more difficult genre; the material may be lighter, but it's also very subjective. How do you approach a comedy, knowing you have to reach the broadest audience possible for your show to work?
I think the only thing you can do is do what you think is funny. The writing is so funny that we don't have to try to be funny. We just play everything like the stakes are high and this is real life, and the comedy comes out of that. The whole first season has one guest star; they really made this about our core group.
They threw a lot of different stuff at me. In TV, you may think your character's one thing for two episodes, and then the third episode it could be something different.
Beyond that, people have a bit of a misconception that sitcoms are fairly easy to put together, because of the length and the format. What does it really take to put together your show every week?
It's basically fourteen hour days or longer for the entire week. By Friday you're working until midnight. It is an incredible, intense experience to crank out an hour of incredibly funny stuff every five days. I end up not speaking to friends because I'm so busy.
Part of the battle is not fearing being unfunny. If your standard's to be funny all the time, you're going to have a hard time. I'll improvise something and it just bombs, but that's just part of the process.
How do you tackle your character? After all, you have to create a believable relationship chemistry with an actress you've only recently met (It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia's Mary Elizabeth Ellis), not to mention your characters seem to be riding an emotional rollercoaster.
I actually knew Mary Elizabeth before we did the show; she did a pilot with my fiancee the year before, so I actually knew her. Chemistry's a funny thing. It can be instantaneous, but it helps when you know someone. I was cast before her, and I read with a number of girls, but Mary Elizabeth blew them away. You just bank on that and you take it from there. It's really something you don't have to work at.
You've been on quite a few short-lived series (Heist, Quarterlife, 100 Questions). Talk about that experience - it must be frustrating to just start to figure out your role and then realize that you're not going to be in it much longer.
It's frustrating. It feels a bit like the Patriots do right now [or] like you're on a treadmill and somebody hits the stop button. The first time it happened, it was really tough, because I was new and I didn't expect it, I didn't understand the industry. At this point, nothing will surprise me. I'm always optimistic, but there's a caution there. I've got my entire heart in this show.
That said, you've done a lot of television in your career. Do you prefer working in television?
That's the way it fell. I'm doing some more movies these days. I just was in Burlesque and I've got a part in Friends With Benefits with Justin Timberlake. I like it all. I kind of go where the wind blows, and TV has just been how I make a living so far. That's what I like about acting. You don't know where you'll be in year.
Do you have a particular role on television that you'd have loved to tackle? A series you'd like to be on if the opportunity presented itself?
My favorite shows right now are like Modern Family and The Office, but as far as a role, the character is less important to me than the quality of the writing. I'd play the same character for ten years if the words and the moments that I'm playing are authentic.
My thanks to David Walton for this interview. You can check out Perfect Couples when it premieres this Thursday on NBC at 8:30 PM ET/PT.