The Death Of ‘Free Agents’ — And Of Grown-Up Romantic Comedy

It was inevitable, given its low ratings, but I remain sorry that NBC has cancelled Free Agents, one of the shows that felt most promising to me (in an admittedly weak season). As I wrote when the show first began, what was so appealing about it to me is that Hank Azaria and Kathryn Hanh’s characters felt like actual grown-ups. They had been through some seriously rough stuff, and the show didn’t try to pretend that sleeping together minimized the impacts of a devastating divorce or the untimely death of a fiance. The characters had definitive preferences, priorities, and personalities that didn’t vanish the minute they met someone new. Work matters to both of them. Romance is not the ultimate value, though it’s not unimportant, either. There was no clear answer or destination here, but watching them negotiate each episode, each encounter, was a pleasure — it would have been find for the characters not to end up together, and it still would have been interesting.

Maybe that just speaks to the poverty of romantic comedy thinking today, where no character has traits or preferences that can’t be sacrificed when true love, the highest value of all, comes along, where the prospect of not ending up with somebody is the biggest obstacle anyone can dream up. Relationships happen at a lot of ages, not just when people are in their 20s, and at a lot of different stages in life. Part of romance is negotiation, and mutual self-actualization. That Free Agents felt so comparatively fresh says much more about the market than about the quality of the show itself.