TV Review: ABC’s ‘Mixology’ is a toxic brew

Never begin a relationship with a lie. 

That's not wisdom I got from watching ABC's new sitcom “Mixology,” which actually preaches quite the opposite. “Mixology” strongly advocates that the best way to get laid involves some level of performativity or outright lying.

So maybe it's appropriate, actually, that “Mixology” begins literally every episode with a lie.

“This is the story of 10 strangers, one night and all the ridiculous things we do to find love,” declares the opening voiceover to “Mixology.”

My ass.

“Mixology” is as much about people on a quest for love as “Raiders of the Lost Ark” is about an archeologist on a quest for snakes. 

When you get down to it, “Mixology” is about 10 hateful people looking for sex, irrespective of the lack of chemistry between either the characters or the actors. Set across one night, “Mixology” is desperately invested in making you care whether or not sex will happen, but desperately uninvested in giving you any reason to care who it will happen between or why it will happen. “Mixology,” thanks to its structure and its deadbeat assortment of characters, is about sex as horrifying and almost nihilistic inevitability.  

I've watched six episodes of “Mixology” and if it were a better show, you would think it might be attempting to subvert the pervasive practice of shipping among certain TV fans. Part of what makes certain shows popular is  audience members doing everything within their limited power to bring certain characters together, even if the rules of the show don't seem to be built around bringing those characters together. “Mixology,” if it were actually intentionally subversive, might intentionally be functioning the opposite way.

Viewer: “But I don't WANT [Boring Man] and [Bitchy Girl] to get together.”

“Mixology”: “Tough. If they don't have sex at the end of 13 episodes, a nuclear bomb will be detonated in Valencia.”

See, that's how you produce stakes in a show that has a ticking clock.

Will Jack Bauer save the West Coast from the rogue Secretary of State piloting a helicopter weighed down by Axe body spray canisters filled with herpes? I'll watch 24 hours of TV to make sure that doesn't happen.

Will 10 singles who probably tripped into a vat of Axe body spray, and may or may not be carrying herpes, get laid before the end of 13 episodes?  Somehow, I just can't bring myself to care. 

Maybe if “Mixology” were actually about characters finding love, rather than inevitably unsatisfactory — a lot of booze is consumed — humping, I could get behind that. “Romantic comedy” isn't my favorite genre, but when executed properly, I can often find enthusiasm. But romantic comedy is hard, because it really helps if you wish happiness, as opposed to misery, on at least one of the characters. 

No such luck here. 

So don't start with a lie. Nobody in “Mixology” could care less about love.

Now let's get down to an actual review, eh? I mean, I know that whenever I really, really hate something, y'all have to check it out, so you might as well know what you're checking out.

As the intro may have semi-implied, “Mixology” takes place over one night as 10 people try to bang.

The “all in one night” thing will doubtlessly seem like a comedic revolution for people who didn't watch ABC's “Big Day,” CBS' “Worst Week” or the original pilot for ABC's “Jake in Progress.” Now, to be fair, nobody saw ABC's “Big Day,” CBS' “Worst Week” or ABC's “Jake in Progress,” which is probably why nobody remembers that the sort of semi-realtime narrative urgency that steers a “24” is much harder to sustain when the end objective is a comedic one. “Big Day” and even this current season of “How I Met Your Mother” have used weddings as an end-point and weddings are a pretty big deal, fraught with a pretty high amount of tension. The “Just another night at the bar” conceit of “Mixology” induces a prolonged shrug, because whatever happens in this night would probably happen tomorrow and plausibly with a more interesting group of patrons.

On this particular night, here are a few of the people we're dealing with:

There's Tom (Blake Lee), such a strange parody of “normal” and “nice” guys that you'd never guess he was the “normal” and “nice” guy except that people keep calling him that, clearly as an insult.

There's Maya (Ginger Gonzaga), a ball-busting lawyer who thinks that only professional athletes are men and who can't respect guys who let her talk smack because, “If I talked like that to Don Draper, he would smack me in the mouth. That is a man.”

There's Jessica (Alexis Carra), the brassy single mom who would be the only character on the show I respected, except that she spends all of her time with Fab (Frankie Shaw), a handbag mogul who looks at attractive men and says things like, “He's so hot, I would let him degrade me.”

There's Ron (Adam Campbell, who I really and truly have liked in other things), a British ex-mogul introduced barfing in a woman's purse on the same day he was bankrupted after scamming millions and buying stuff from himself. 

And then there's Bruce, played by Andrew Santino. Bruce is the worst new character introduced on a television show in recent memory. There was the annoying brother or brother-in-law on “Work It”? The one who didn't cross-dress, but just said crass things about women? He was like Don Draper compared to Bruce. I don't know if Santino is making Bruce more annoying, but I'm inclined to believe that he's a completely innocent bystander here. No actor, no matter how lovely, could pull off dialogue like these samples: 

*** “Girls have changed, man. They will sleep with anything. I get laid all the time, man. And I'm disgusting.” 

*** “Big booties are what's in, dude … Black guys were right all along. We should have listened to them.”

*** “In all my years of smashing out beautiful a, I've never seen wingmanning that good in my life.”

*** “Waitresses are just strippers with food.”

[I have to acknowledge this here just as I acknowledged it in this week's Firewall & Iceberg Podcast: Some people are going to find those lines of dialogue funny. I don't know what to do with those people, but I know they're out there. There are people for whom this show will be like a little snapshot of their lives. I probably just have to accept that.]

There's also the helium-voiced waitress with no self-esteem, the himbo bartender who gets things because women want to do him, the black guy with no personality traits and another helium-voiced woman with no self-esteem. 

Here's the neatest part: These are our HEROES. These are the people we're supposed to be rooting for, to be sympathizing with, to be laughing with. The villains of the show are all of the mockable “types” that the various characters suggest don't even deserve the CHANCE to get laid, including various hipsters, Hawaiians, old people and people who bring their own guacamole to bars. Those people are just pointed at, humiliated and judged, because heaven knows our main characters have earned the right to judge people.

“Mixology” creators Jon Lucas and Scott Moore seem determined to try to have it both ways with their main characters. Nearly every character is introduced in the most repulsive way possible and then the show tries to backtrack, sell the characters out and make it seem like they're all just marshmallows. Lucas and Moore come from a feature background and that's a trick that's far easier to do in a movie. A character really can be a douche for 60 minutes, have a redemptive moment and then be the hero for the last 30 minutes. It's part of a continuous narrative arc. On a TV show, it doesn't work that way. You can't have Bruce be Bruce and then decide in Episode 3 to show that he's just an insecure baby, then have him go back to being Bruce for two more episodes and think that I'm going to root for Bruce to “smash out beautiful a.” You can't tell me that just that morning, Ron was caught bilking money from weaker people, show a parade of women he slept with without knowing their names and then think that we won't want to smack him just because says things with a British accent. And two characters who come from the same town and have the same answers to questions? That just means that the writers wrote the same line of dialogue twice in a row. It's not even a suggestion of romantic chemistry.

And nobody, as I've already said, has an iota of chemistry and that goes for the groups of friends as well. You may not understand why any of the characters would want to sleep with any of the characters the show suggests they might eventually rub off against, but you also won't understand why any of the groupings of friends tolerate each other either. 

Each episode is named after two or three characters who will gravitate towards each other in the half-hour, but it doesn't mean they're going to stay together beyond that half-hour or that the writers even care about bringing the characters together. And then usually, in addition to those two characters, there will be a B and a C story that doesn't relate to the main story and often doesn't even go anywhere. That second bit is a weird trend stemming from the pilot, in which Sarah Bolger appears to be the romantic match for British Ron, except that Sarah Bolger had to be on “Once Upon a Time,” so she vanishes and nobody cares and nobody thought it might be better to recast the character because… Who cares?

Ultimately, the lack of caring is, I suspect, why most of the actors from “Mixology” are going to escape unscathed. One year from now, after “Mixology” is gone, I won't associate any of these people with this show because, despite those six episodes I watched, my positive investment level was zero. My negative investment level was high in several of the characters, but if Santino shaves his beard and stops saying bad dialogue, I won't associate him with Bruce ever again. But the hate I have for “Mixology” is for the show and not for the actors, because I don't think a single one of them is doing anything with their performances and characterizations to make anything worse than it must have been on the page. You do a pilot in the spring, with Ryan Seacrest producing, and you figure it's a lark. It's not necessarily your fault that ABC decides to order the darned thing, pretend the darned thing is good and schedule the darned thing after “Modern Family,” in what is sure to be a time period match every bit as incompatible as each potential coupling on “Mixology.”

I actually have a lot more to say about “Mixology” and its wrong-headed feeling that since its male characters are as toxic as its female characters, its version of misanthropy is better than straight-up misogyny. 

But I'm running out of time. And if I don't post this review soon, it'll never get posted and you'll never know how much I hated the show and therefore how much you want to watch it. 

So I want to quickly step back and salute “Mixology” for some decent production design. I referenced “Work It” earlier and “Mixology” is definitely ABC's worst comedy since that dud, which kept its misogyny pretty pure. Well, one of the things I mocked “Work It” for was its cheapness, including the worst depiction of a nightclub I've ever seen in any medium. “Mixology” has a much better bar set. It looks a bit like a bar. Heck, it looks a lot like a bar, even if it's much quieter and much better lit than any bar that these actual characters would be likely to spend time in. But it's a pretty good set, which is a relief, since “Mixology” is in that bar at all times. 

See? I can say nice things about “Mixology,” too!

I leave you with a new word: Parthenogenesis. It refers to reproduction in which embryos grow and develop without fertilization. It's an entirely asexual process. “Mixology” makes a compelling argument for it.

“Mixology” premieres on Wednesday (February 26) night at 9:30 on ABC.