As one of an insufficiently large number of fans of Rob Thomas' romantic dramedy "Cupid," which starred Jeremy Piven and Paula Marshall and aired only 14 episodes before being canceled by ABC in 1999, I greeted with mixed feelings the news of its retooled return. In the whole history of remakes, there have been few that have seemed worth the effort -- the recently concluded "Battlestar Galactica" and Hitchcock's second "The Man Who Knew Too Much" come to mind, and then . . . I'm out.
I prefer "Cupid 1.0" -- bits of which you may find floating around the Web, if you're interested -- but given that many of you will not remember it at all, I won't spend too much time praising the former at the expense of the latter, which begins tonight, also on ABC, upgraded from the original's Saturday-night Siberia to a prime slot after "Dancing With the Stars." I will say, however, that it isn't as good as Thomas' other current show, "Party Down," on Starz, which is calculated to work only on its own terms, while the new "Cupid" is intended to succeed, in a mass way, where its predecessor failed. (Nor is it as good as his "Veronica Mars.") That is the great luxury of lower commercial expectations.
As before, psychiatrist/self-help author Claire (Sarah Paulson, "Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip") is given charge of a patient who calls himself Cupid (Bobby Cannavale, "Will & Grace"), but for purposes of getting along in the world introduces himself as Trevor. Trevor's story -- and he's sticking to it -- is that he's been banished to Earth until he unites 100 mortal couples: "They yammered on about relearning my craft and the screwed-up state of love and romance," he says by way of explanation.
The show is driven by their opposing views of love:
"Love at first sight is a myth," says Claire. "Love is built on a sturdier foundation . . . mutual respect, friendship."
"Love is passion," says Trevor. "Love is heat, chemistry, sex."
"No," says Claire. "Love is what's left after the heat and the passion die . . . or fades away . . . kind of slowly."
The love connection in tonight's episode involves an Irishman with a guitar, a woman he once gave directions to, and the female reporter whom Trevor enlists to help publicize his quest to find her again. (He has spent his last dime to travel from Ireland to Manhattan, apparently having never heard the one about the needle in the haystack.) If you can't tell where this triangle's headed, you are the perfect audience for this show.
The idea seems to have been to make the new "Cupid" more upbeat, more fun than the last. Paulson is blond and sparkly where Marshall was dark and contained, while Cannavale is more of a party Cupid than was Piven, whose god of love contained the bitter seeds of Ari Gold, the agent he now plays on "Entourage." Reportedly, the current series will spend more time on the couples Trevor is trying to match and less on the couple he and his sometime psychiatrist might become. Underlying their relationship is a pun on Cupid and Psyche -- Psyche being Cupid's wife, as is in fact pointed out here.
Television, like love, is a matter of chemistry, of which none is yet obvious between the leads here. Will it come? Trevor would tell you that you should know it in an instant, while Claire would reserve judgment; they're both right, of course, some of the time.
When: 10 tonight
Rating: TV-PG-DL (may be unsuitable for young children, with advisories for suggestive dialogue and coarse language)