TV shows lost to history: ‘Miss Match’ (2003) (Review)

“Miss Match” promotional photo

“Miss Match” (2003, NBC) ranks toward the top of the list of shows that were destined to be sure-fire hits yet somehow weren’t. Alicia Silverstone was Entertainment Weekly’s Fall TV Preview cover girl, the show was the magazine’s pick for Best New Drama (“Arrested Development” was the Best New Comedy, if you’re curious) and it was the only scripted show specifically about romance on TV that season.

When the lesser “Joan of Arcadia” (which itself faded into the mists of TV history after two seasons, although it got a DVD release, at least) won the Friday night timeslot every week, “Miss Match” quickly went from frontrunner to underdog. It ended up lasting 17 episodes (12 aired in the U.S.), and I probably love it more because everyone else has forgotten it exists, but it’s still very defendable as a quality show.

The first thing you’ll notice about this Darren Star (“Sex and the City”)/Jeff Rake dramedy is that it sits on the fence of “Is it a ripoff or an homage?” Silverstone’s Kate is a matchmaker, like her most famous character, Cher from “Clueless” (1995). And primary love interest Michael (David Conrad) is an architect, like Conrad’s Leo in “Relativity” (1996-97). “Miss Match” is set in Los Angeles, as were “Clueless” and “Relativity.” I wouldn’t want these characters to actually be Cher and Leo, as there would be too much baggage to overcome, but it does feel a little too on-point.

It also hedges its bets by only being half about matchmaking. The A1 plot finds Kate setting up people on dates, but in the A2 plot, she is a divorce lawyer at a firm run by her suave dad Jerry (Ryan O’Neal). These are the kind of courtroom scenes you’d find in David E. Kelley shows or the following year’s TV Show Lost to History “Century City,” where personal conflicts are wedged into the law format, but the actual law element is implausible.

For example, in the final episode, “Matchmaker Matchmaker,” a woman sues a man (Thomas Haden Church, just before “Sideways”) for leaving her rather than marrying her as he had promised. He proposes a settlement: marriage. She accepts, and they presumably live happily ever after. But at least the divorce/matchmaking dichotomy makes sense, unlike the police procedural/seeing God pairing of “Joan of Arcadia” (OK, I’m still a bit caught up in that timeslot rivalry).

Still, “Miss Match” dares you to not love it. From an era of cynical shows, this one is blatantly happy, particularly in the early episodes, because Kate has an infectiously positive attitude about dating. When an overly aggressive guy hits on her at a bar, she doesn’t see it as a dangerous moment, but something to be smoothly brushed off with her natural skills for handling those situations. She sees the best in everyone, but if someone’s best is particularly unappealing, she knows how to dodge them. The exception is Charisma Carpenter’s Serena, who is essentially Cordelia if she hadn’t matured beyond Season 1 of “Buffy”; it’s a running joke that Serena keeps shoehorning her way into Kate’s life.

The series ends on a weird note (considering the theme of the series) where Kate rejects both Michael and the arrogant Adam (“Firefly’s” Nathan Fillion) and embraces the single life, but I suspect this was the result of a rushed conclusion after the writers learned of the cancellation. Generally, “Miss Match” is not interested in the melancholy notion of a matchmaker who can’t find love herself; the writers are wise to the fact that Kate looks like Alicia Silverstone, so Kate has a robust love life throughout the series.

In the finale, we meet two other matchmakers – one who uses questionnaires and one who leans on photographs. Kate goes by gut feeling. The point of “Miss Match,” though, is not that Kate is outstanding at matching people up because of some intangible magic touch (although she does have enough success to charge clients $1,000 for three set-ups), but rather that she enjoys the challenge. She is often surprised by which couples end up clicking and which don’t – and that is very true to life.

I would have liked to see a bit more variety in the personality types, as most of the daters are Hollywood good-looking, but there are a couple nods to people who are as socially awkward as Kate and bestie Victoria (Lake Bell, later of one-season wonder “Surface”) are confident. Introverted Richard (Reg Rogers) gets coaching from Kate and wardrobe adjustments from Victoria, but still doesn’t click with anyone – until he eventually stumbles across history professor Amy (Katherine LaNasa), recently dumped by Michael, at Kate’s party. A deeper show might’ve followed this relationship a bit further.

Still, while Kate and Michael provide the cliched “destined to be together but they don’t know it yet” arc, we do get a fair selection of other relationship types. Kate herself briefly dates a guy she had pined after in high school, only to find they don’t connect 10 years later.

Admittedly, some of the show’s appeal is superficial, as we get to watch Silverstone (whose career tailed off after this) every week, plus a steady parade of people we know from other shows and movies, both before and since, including People’s 2011 Sexiest Man Alive, Bradley Cooper. One particularly cute episode, “Kate in Ex-tasy” (4), finds a pre-“Office” Jenna Fischer and a post-“American Pie” Eddie Kaye Thomas wanting to date other people before they get married so they know they have chosen the right partner.

“Miss Match” gleans some appeal from being the first show to use the “Buffy” lots after that show ended (because the mood is 180 degrees different, it’s not distracting), and it has some “remember 2003?” kitsch with its little black books, pagers and answering machines. Still, it has aged as well as O’Neal’s Jerry – who of course ends up dating Serena, to Kate’s horror — and its unusually positive attitude toward dating and relationships is still refreshing 14 years later.

(This blog post is part of a series about great short-lived TV shows that haven’t been released on DVD or digital or streaming services, and are rarely – if ever — shown in syndication. While some of these shows can be found somewhere on the Internet, fans of great TV want to see them get a proper release. If you’re one of those fans, your best bets are to vote for the show at TVonDVD.com or to request information from Amazon.com in the event the show gets released. This will let the copyright holder know of your interest. Find an index of my TV reviews here.)