Stars: Becki Newton, Greg Grunberg, Constance Zimmer
Writers: Colleen McGuinness (“Banana Bread”, “Decent Proposal”), Danielle Sanchez-Witzels & Larry Wilmore (“Eyegasms”)
Directors: Wendey Stanzler (“Banana Bread”, “Decent Proposal”), Marc Buckland (“Eyegasms”)
Network: NBC, airs Thursday nights
Original Telecast: June 9, 2011

After literally crucifying the series premiere of LOVE BITES last week, I felt that this LOVE, AMERICAN STYLE-type anthology series deserved a second chance. After all, debuts of most TV series that turn out to be great, usually decline after that. In this case, there’s no where to go but up, right?

Surprisingly, “How To …” is much better than the debut, though with three different stories intertwined, some are bound to be better than others. The writing is slightly snappier this week, but the situations, once again, feel a bit forced.

I was unsure last week how the three regular leads of the show Annie (Becki Newton), Judd (Greg Grunberg) and Colleen (Constance Zimmer) would be integrated into future episodes, now I see how they’re trying to shoehorn them into stories at any cost as supporting players. Does it work – part of the time, but it’s the one “gimme” on the show I’m willing to forgive.

The best of the three stories turns out to be “Banana Bread.” The silly plot mechanism here is elevated by the casting Michelle Trachtenberg and Bret Harrison (both who deserve to topline a romantic feature film all their own).

When Annie (Trachtenberg) decides to bake banana bread for her new boyfriend Charlie (Harrison), he freaks out and breaks it off thinking she wants a more serious commitment. He uses the old, “we’re better off friends” line. From there, Annie decides to fight back and act like a “friend” to him which results in a Katherine Heigl movie night and french braids. He gets his own revenge by inviting her to a strip club.

This premise would be enough to hinge a really terrible feature film on, probably starring none other than Heigl, but in a short fifteen minute little story, it actually isn’t half bad. Some of the observations are slightly clever and both Trachtenberg and Harrison rise about the perfunctory material. Harrison, so good on REAPER and recently on the canceled BREAKING IN, deserves to be a major star. He’s funny, has a great likability and could eventually become the next Paul Rudd. Now, if only someone else could see that.

Ditto for Trachtenberg who is absolutely adorable. She has great comic timing and she definitely honed her dramtic/comedy chops on BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER that actually come nicely into play here.

The on-going pregnancy storyline with Annie (she’s a surrogate for her sister) is starting to get annoying – only because writer Colleen McGuinness falls back on silly “hormone” stereotypes whenever she wants Annie to act crazy and offended by the things going on in Annie’s love life.

Story #2 is “Decent Proposal” which deals with Judd’s next-door-neighbor Kyle (Stephen Rannazzisi) who awaits his conservative parents (Kurtwood Smith, Frances Conroy) to meet his new boyfriend. While the premise and some of the stereotypes in the story are a bit offensive, the lesson in tolerance that comes out during the course of everything proves to be better than it should be. Even the integration of Judd into this isn’t as intrusive as it could have been. Plus, the stripper from story #1 pops up in a how-to-video at Judd’s place (a nice way of linking the stories together).

Finally, Story #3 dubbed “Eyegasm” spotlights Judd and Colleen and deals with fantasy sex. When TV sex therapist Dr. O (Jeffrey Tambor) suggests they look each other in the eye during sex, the truth about their fantasy sex partners comes to the forefront. Colleen says she thinks about faceless firefighters, Judd admits he thinks about the barista at the local coffee shop. Not something you want to admit to your partner.

Both Grunberg and Zimmer are fun to watch, but this is definitely the weaker story of the three  – way too over-the-top and too ridiculous to pass muster as a B-story on a regular relationship dramedy.

What have I learned from suffering through a second week of LOVE BITES. Well, the writing has improved considerably, the guest cast (in the case of “Banana Bread”) is only as good as who they cast, and the concept isn’t as asinine as the pilot made it out to be.

That said, LOVE BITES still isn’t a slam-dunk. As a summer diversion, there may be people who find it enjoyable, but it’s a work-in-progress that won’t benefit from any future seasons (it’s being burned off in the summer months, so that tells you something). In fact, the anemic ratings last week, could very well spell an early doom for the show if it doesn’t uptick after tonight. I did my part, I gave it a second chance, but LOVE BITES is going to have to do a lot more than come up with great stunt casting to keep me coming back for more weekly review torture.

AGREE? DISAGREE? Let your voice be heard – COMMENT BELOW!

Click on Link: Ax’s LOVE BITES – Stand and Deliver review
Click on Link: Ax’s LOVE BITES – Series Premiere Review
Click on Link: Ax’s LOVE BITES – “Keep on Truckin'” review
Click on Link: Ax’s LOVE BITES – “Sky High” review

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