Comic Matchmakers Do Cupid No Favors
OK, actually, the Bard never mentioned "Lovespring International," the zippy and largely improvised new half-hour sitcom premiering Monday, June 5, on Lifetime. But the show's dysfunctional "relationship counselors" are pompous misfits right out of a farce.
With a six-member cast comprised of some of the best improv players in the business, this new comedy series is set in the offices of a dating service that pretentiously bills itself as "an elite Beverly Hills company" (it's really located in suburban Tarzana, Calif.).
Lovespring Incorporated is owned and managed by Victoria Ratchford (Jane Lynch, "Best in Show"), the chic dragon lady who founded the company 15 years ago.
"She's a boss who really doesn't have her hands on a lot of things, yet she expects people to read her mind and do her bidding," says Lynch, best remembered for her work in Christopher Guest film comedies and as religious groupie Cindi Lightballoon on "Arrested Development."
"She loves pitting people against each other now and then, which she does all in the name of creating business for Lovespring, but I think she really gets off on it. She has put all of her money and street cred into this company, so it's vitally important to her that we not only succeed, but that we flourish."
Victoria's eccentric staff includes:
Lovespring senior vice president and relationship consultant Burke Kristopher (Sam Pancake, "Kitchen Confidential"), who is married but takes unsettling personal interest in his male clients.
Lydia Mayhew (Wendi McLendon-Covey, "Reno 911"), company vice president and relationship consultantand Burke's chief nemesis, who has been in "an exclusive 20-year relationship" with a married man. It's a disaster, but no one can make her see that.
Steve Morris (Jack Plotnick, "Ellen"), the company's resident psychologist, whose touchy-feely approach with female clients tends to creep them out -- especially since he bears a striking resemblance to a 1970s-era porn star.
Alex Odom (comic Mystro Clark), the staff videographer, who is levelheaded enough to realize he is working with lunatics yet finds himself reluctantly drawn into their antics.
Tiffany Riley Clarke (Jennifer Elise Cox, "The Brady Bunch Movie"), the ditsy receptionist who believes she works far too hard, an opinion shared by no one else in the office.
While Lydia and her associates ooze supportive concern and rapport with every client who comes through the door, it quickly becomes apparent that these matchmakers don't really care for their clients. In fact, they hate them. A lot.
"That was a hard thing for me to play," Pancake reveals, "because my first instinct was that we would have these clients and try to help them with their problems. But as the show developed, it became more apparent that we, in fact, hate these people. Really, [we have] nothing but contempt for them. We just want their money, and that attitude comes all the way down from Jane's character, who loves to pit Wendi and me against one another. Being from Virginia, part of me automatically goes, 'But that's so rude!' but another part realizes that it's also just much funnier that way."
The 30-something actor, best known for brilliant but brief guest gigs on sitcoms ranging from "Arrested Development" to "Will & Grace," makes the most of his first real leading role, and he's perfectly partnered with McLendon-Covey, whose Lydia delights in poaching Burke's clients.
"The great thing was that as soon as Wendi and I met to work on the [pilot] presentation, we instinctively fell into this relationship very easily," Pancake explains. "It's very hard for me to meet an actor and then right away have to be antagonistic toward them, but what clicked between Wendi and me was sort of a brother-and-sister rivalry, which was a happy accident.
"This truly has been a dream experience for me," he continues. " 'Lovespring' was picked up about the same time that 'Kitchen Confidential' was canceled, and, having filmed 13 episodes of that show and having just two or three lines per episode, I was ready to move up to something else. So this has worked out very well. I would much rather my first big lead, so to speak, be in an improvised show, because I feel so well taken care of with this group. We all get along very well."
"Lovespring International" marks the producing debut of former "Will & Grace" star Eric McCormack, who makes a hilarious guest appearance in episode two as Lydia's Mr. Right. McCormack, whose Big Cattle Productions company produces "Lovespring," says he and fellow executive producer Michael Forman had been looking for a comedy that felt fresh and innovative.
"The first thing we fell in love with was 'Lovespring,' which at that point was just a lot of footage that Guy Shalem, the director, had shot to show that this thing could really work," McCormack says. "It was highly improvised. Guy and Brad Isaacs came up with the concept, and we helped them assemble it into a 10-minute piece and took it out to show everybody.
"A lot of people loved it, but it was really only Lifetime that really got behind it and said, 'This is exactly what we want for our new seal.' Two years ago, you wouldn't have thought of an improvised comedy as the next Lifetime show, but they really are interested in broadening their audience with some new and surprising thing."
Lifetime recently expanded its original six-episode order to 13, and McCormack is keeping his fingers crossed that viewers will find and embrace the offbeat sitcom.
"I know that Lifetime is really into it, and I know this is also not the typical fare that people come to Lifetime looking for, so we're counting on them to spread the word, because we really hope to get an audience," he says.