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Television Review

Romantic comedy tries too hard to impress

Elizabeth Reaser (left, with Anne Bedian) decides to revisit her old boyfriends, hoping to find Mr. Right in CBS' ''The Ex List.'' Elizabeth Reaser (left, with Anne Bedian) decides to revisit her old boyfriends, hoping to find Mr. Right in CBS' ''The Ex List.'' (cliff lipson/cbs)
By Matthew Gilbert
Globe Staff / October 3, 2008
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Remember when "so" was so overused? Well "The Ex List" officially marks the so-over-ness of "really" as a retort. Really? Really.

The new CBS series, tonight at 9 on Channel 4, also firmly establishes the need to ban all vagina- and penis-based subplots from post-"Sex and the City" comedy premieres. Can we agree that from this day forward, genital storylines on TV must be earned, and not deployed as a shortcut to hipness and audience love?

Think of "The Ex List" as one of those people who try too hard to be instantly liked. It's all up in your face with cuteness and sexual frankness and text-message-y quips about modern life, like an aggressive ad for the latest jeans. Based on an Israeli series, "The Ex List" nakedly aspires to be the sassy 18-49-demo show of the moment. Led by Elizabeth Reaser, the buffed-up actors all strain to be casual 30-something friends, unaware that forcing ease is a contradiction in terms.

There's probably a good, breezy romantic comedy somewhere inside "The Ex List." But the premiere just made me cranky. The idea is that Reaser's Bella Bloom (she works in a flower shop; I warned you) has been told by a psychic that she must find the man she'll marry within a year, or she'll be alone forever. Furthermore, the psychic tells Bella that she has already dated the guy, which doesn't narrow the options since our heroine has been "dating since the womb," as she puts it. And so Bella begins to go over her ex-list tonight, and will presumably revisit one ex per episode, re-living her romantic back story until cancellation or marriage, whichever comes first.

It's exhausting to think of this formula playing out week after week, as Bella hunts San Diego for her hubby in the way Earl on "My Name Is Earl" crosses sins off his list. And we know in advance that the ex-of-the-week will probably not be the ex-of-the-future, so each ex is destined to be something of a one-off joke. Tonight's ex is played by Eric Balfour. He's a folkie whom Bella dumped on his birthday years ago because he was clingy. Now he's a toughened-up rock star - the chorus to his crowd-pleasing song is "Bitch! Left me on my birthday." But he agrees to re-date Bella, culminating in a predictable denouement.

Bella's most recent ex-boyfriend, Elliott, is a regular on the show, by the way, since he and Bella share custody of their dog. Will this most generic of hunks (Mark Delkin) wind up being The One? Will it all come down to T.S. Eliot - "The end of all our exploring / Will be to arrive where we started / And know the place for the first time"? Because that would make me feel very Sylvester the Cat - "Thufferin' Thuccotash."

Bella has three roommates and a sister, who hang around looking pretty and commenting on her travails. Augie (Adam Rothenberg) and Vivian (Alexandra Breckenridge) are a couple, and they provide tonight's excuse for naughty talk. The two bicker about body hair, and give Bella the opportunity to deliver the script's big female-viewer-baiting line: "When did having a vagina become a full-time job?"

Writer-producer Diane Ruggiero recently left "The Ex List" after completing a handful of episodes, which could signal a change in direction. Which is the only thing that could signal a chance for a second date.

Matthew Gilbert can be reached at gilbert@globe.com. For more on TV, visit www.boston.com/ae/tv/blog/.

The Ex List

Starring: Elizabeth Reaser, Rachel Boston, Alexandra Breckenridge, Adam Rothenberg, William Russ, Mark Delkin

On: CBS, Channel 4

Time: Tonight, 9-10

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