Cupid’s arrow hit just shy of the mark with Valentine, but even though you won’t fall head over heels in love with the show, fans of romantic comedy conventions will find something at least to like.
Valentine centers on Grace Valentine (Jaime Murray), who is really the goddess of love Aphrodite. Her job — under the guise of the business Valentine, Inc. — is to help soulmates unite in this crazy, modern-day world of Los Angeles. Aiding her in her task is her son Danny (Kristoffer Polaha), aka Eros the god of love, levelheaded Leo who is actually Hercules and Phoebe (Autumn Reeser), a goddess of the Oracle of Delphi.
Does the premise sound vaguely familiar? Perhaps it’s because Cupid did the "Greco-Roman god on earth tasked to set up couples" thing first and then got revived as a brand-new Cupid on ABC for 2009. The differences are vast, however, and sadly, this reviewer really loved the original Cupid starring Jeremy Piven, so Valentine has a tough act to follow.
The show’s formula is simple: A couple who should be together is apart somehow, and some external time limit makes the situation desperate. "The Fates" waft a business card with the Valentine, Inc. number their way, professing to be a 24-hour plumber, locksmith or what have you service, and then — bam! Suddenly the Greek gods are pretending to help you with your mundane concerns when in fact they’re scheming to get you and your beloved a happy ending.
The gods aren’t merely acting out of altruism though. Because of society’s increasingly depersonalized atmosphere thanks to technology replacing face-to-face interaction, people aren’t falling in love as much or don’t want it at all. The problem is that if the gods become irrelevant at their jobs, they become mortal. In short, they can get injured and eventually die. Yikes! Out of fear, Grace brings in the big guns when she asks romance novelist Kate Providence (Christine Lakin) to be their romance consultant and provide them ideas on how to get couples together.
As premiere episodes go, Valentine started out just okay. Sticking around for a second episode proved to be wise because the show got marginally better, mainly because the couple being set up was more sympathetic. A warning though: You absolutely must be tolerant of romantic comedy devices — the meet-cute, the frustrating/cringe-worthy setbacks, the longing and the predictably quick and adorable resolution — in order to stomach Valentine.
First and foremost, even if you do not believe in one true soulmate, you must get past that in order to watch this show. This is especially tough with the premiere since Joanna (Lauren Cohan) only sees Roland (Mike Faiola) as a friend to the point that she’s engaged herself to elope with another man, who is a cheating cad. Her treatment of Roland isn’t the best, and it’s difficult to try and root for them.
Nevertheless, you do so in order to get the super-cheesy ending that romantic comedies so reliably provide. Who cares if the couple really doesn’t know one another, hurts each other or has only known each other for a few weeks? It’s true love, dammit!
Even beyond the mismatched couples, some of the gods aren’t the most sympathetic — although this is keeping with Greek mythology in which the gods were immature, fallible and promiscuous beings. Well, Danny as Eros is no different, and tries to apply his lust weapon — a gun instead of the traditional bow and arrow — to the love matches, which eventually self-destruct. Mom Grace tries to get him to know better, but she has her own love problems since she’s having an affair with her ex-husband Ray (Patrick Fabian), who’s really Hephaestus the god of fire and making stuff, behind the back of her unloving husband Ari (Greg Ellis), the god of war Ares.
So far, only Leo is completely kind and upstanding, keeping to himself and fading into the background, while Phoebe is childlike, sometimes charmingly enthusiastic but sometimes petulant, jealously guarding her role as the only one to whom the Oracle will reveal secrets.
As performances go, everyone does a creditable job considering the likeability of their respective characters, especially Polaha and Lakin, whose Danny and Kate can be irritating at times but may have the right sort of friction to lead to romance. Fabian and Baker both reveal an unspoken vulnerability, probably from some painful event in their godly pasts. Murray does the British sexpot thing she worked so well in Dexter, but this time hopefully isn’t as deranged, while Reeser embraces the simplistic Phoebe with glee. Ellis is wonderfully smarmy and plays Ari as a jerk with no respect for his wife’s calling.
For a romantic comedy, Valentine is a bit heavy-handed with the romance and inconsistent with the comedy. It’s not laugh out loud hilarious and absolutely bombs with some ill-considered jokes. Part of the reason is that the show, with its high concept, contrives scenes to be funny rather than allowing quirky characters to create their own humor naturally. A case in point is at some point during each episode, a client, who is fooled by the business front the gods affected, asks them, "What kind of (insert profession here) are you?" and Danny responds, "Holistic." Rimshot.
It should also be mentioned that at least twice the characters made odd, negative value judgments — in the first episode against Internet dating and in another episode against the traditional Indian arranged marriage. Is a crack at gay couples far behind? Granted, the show is meant to entertain and not be taken seriously, but because of its position about true love trumping all, making restrictions about how to achieve that love seems hypocritical.
Because of the guaranteed happy ending, strange internal godly politics and the potential for inappropriate sexual shenanigans, Valentine has a fun factor that needs to be exploited to be truly entertaining without relying on cliches. As it stands, the show is cute, sometimes painfully so, and could use a dose of edgy charm before it enchants viewers unconditionally.
Were you charmed by this show? Who’s your favorite god? What’s your take on love, romance and soulmates?