'Perfect Couples' needs a laugh track

Olivia Munn is part of the ensemble cast Olivia Munn is part of the ensemble cast for NBC's new show, "Perfect Couples," a romantic comedy that follows three flawed pairs trying to get it right. Premieres Thursday, Jan. 20 at 8:30 p.m.

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REVIEW

REASON TO WATCH: Need a dose of rom-com sitcom silliness?

WHEN/WHERE: Premieres Thursday night at 8:30 on NBC/4

Three 30-ish Portland couples, negotiating couplehood. Kyle Bornheimer and Christine Woods are down-to-earth copers in a comfort zone. David Walton and Mary Elizabeth Ellis are screamers-and-have-mad-sex-ers. Hayes MacArthur and Olivia Munn are "cherished partners" heavy into self-help and psychobabble. They intersect on game night or in "man cave" wastedness.

MY SAY Somebody should have told the actors their single-camera show doesn't have a live-audience reaction track. Or maybe somebody should have just added one. 'Cause this premiere has lots of dead space where guffaws ought to go.

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If "laugh tracks" hadn't acquired such a bad name, they'd likely perk up the pace, the dialogue, the situations and even the look of the sets, all of which play flat. And everybody knows that a third-wheel dude coming down for breakfast in a dead mom's lavender silk robe just screams zany!

Instead, "Perfect Couples" premieres with too much modern sitcom technique. On-screen time/place graphics. Quick cuts to "three minutes later" and "one minute before that happened."

Just as things look lost, NBC supplies a second episode for review. And that half-hour (titled "Perfect Health," air date to be announced) pulls itself together. Its rambling storytelling starts to reveal distinct shape in these people, their relationships and the show's quirky comic perspective.

BOTTOM LINE Is some kind of comedy perfect storm brewing here? This one could go either way.

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GRADE C+

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