Webster's defines chemistry between two people as "a strong mutual attraction, attachments or sympathy, matching personalities or vibes to make the relationship click."
Over the decades, there have been several film-screen teams that have clicked because of chemistry: Greta Garbo and John Gilbert, William Powell and Myrna Loy, Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton and, more recently on television, Ted Danson and Shelley Long and Cybill Shepherd and Bruce Willis.
Now critics have singled out the undeniable chemistry between Helen Hunt ("Peggy Sue Got Married") and comic Paul Reiser ("Diner," "My Two Dads") in the new NBC series "Mad About You," which premiered last Wednesday after the network's hit "Seinfeld."
The romantic comedy, of which Reiser also is co-creator and producer, follows the everyday lives of Jamie and Paul, a thirtysomething couple who have been married for about four months. Paul is a documentary filmmaker who is cautious, analytical and hates to get into fights. Jamie is a public-relations executive who is more impulsive and confrontational.
At a recent interview, Hunt and Reiser were exhausted after a long day of rehearsals and script changes, but still managed to exude the easygoing chemistry they display on the small screen. She laughed at his jokes; he praised her to the hilt. The two were sharing a fluffy sofa in Reiser's bungalow, occupied years ago by Gloria Swanson, at Culver Studios, where "Mad About You" is taped in front of an audience.
"It was a silly day," Reiser said, groaning. "Today alone was like three years on the set."
Hunt rolled her eyes. "Oh, My God," she moaned.
"It is always hectic," he said. "I always think it won't be, but it is the nature of the beast."
Hunt smiled over at Reiser, now sprawled out on the sofa. She said she didn't find doing the series quite as frenetic as her co-star: "It seems like so far the script changes (we get) in the mornings which are throwing you a curve ball--nine times out of 10 (the writers) iron out things we are worried about."
"It is nice that we all seem to have the same show in mind," Reiser said. "You've got people all heading for the same finish line, and so far we have gotten to a finish line we have been happy with."
Like "Seinfeld," "Mad About You" is a character-driven series with a minimum of plot. In one episode, Jamie and Paul buy a sofa and in another they read The New York Times on a Sunday morning.
"There is really enough plot and story to drive it and keep it for a half an hour," Reiser said. "There is just a little skeleton which we hang all the behavior and character stuff. I made it minimalist. I want to do something really tiny."
Reiser, who has been married to a psychotherapist for four years, has included incidents from his own life in the show. He wants the series to reflect "the little dance and the games" husbands and wives play with each other. "It is funny (in the series) how they are on to each other," he said. "That's why I wanted to do this show in the first place."
He also finds it cathartic to include something personal in the script and discover that other married couples can identify with it.
"There is safety in numbers," he said.
Once a week, Hunt and Reiser spend a long lunch going over the week's script "to talk through it as two actors because Paul is wearing a lot of hats," she said.
"It is really helpful, too, to get everybody else's voice out for a second," he said.
Both Hunt and Reiser have their own ideas as to why they click as a couple.
"I think he is easy to work with and he is funny," she said. "I can't imagine doing this show with someone who I didn't think was great or just enjoy being with during the day."
"We write it bulletproof for Helen so no matter how much she screws it up, it still holds," he said.
Hunt started laughing hysterically. "How can you say such funny things when you are so tired?"
Reiser continued without missing a beat: "The other reason (we work well together) is I don't know. I don't even want to know. The second reason is I do know. It is simpler that we knew each other a little bit. It was comfortable that we knew each other."
The two met last year at a dinner party given by Hunt's roommate at their house.
"We had a big, long conversation with six of us about marriage, relationships and how it is different when it gets married," said Hunt, who is single, but was involved for several years with actor Matthew Broderick, her "Project X" co-star.
Reiser recalled the two hit it off at the party. "She laughed at all the right things," he said. "I thought she was pretty cool, a nice human being."