Her big eyes sparkle, her rosebud mouth blossoms into a lopsided smile. Who wouldn’t be charmed by Marni Fliss, the goofy sylph on NBC’s new romantic sitcom “Committed”?
Not that you’d want to date her. She’s a wacko. As portrayed by Jennifer Finnigan, she’s an impossibly upbeat flibbertigibbet who speaks in an unfiltered stream of consciousness and gets counseling from Buddha88, an online shrink. Her Greenwich Village sublet came furnished with a retired clown, but that’s just fine with Marni: From his home in a walk-in closet, the clown, played by Tom Poston, supports Marni’s theory that “everyone’s got clowns in their closet.”
Now, in the series’ second week (“Committed” airs Tuesday at 9:30 p.m. ET and Thursday at 8:30 p.m.), Marni is settling into her new relationship with her perfectly mismatched soul mate: Nate Solomon, a phobic math genius who shelters his fevered brain with a low-impact job as a record store clerk. This is a tightly wound chap who, wherever he goes, anticipates peril by locating every emergency exit and, before he makes the simplest decision, charts out all his options on a Venn diagram.
Marni and Nate (played by Josh Cooke) have thus taken their place as TV’s latest loopy lovebirds. But there’s a difference: Unlike such predecessors as Dharma and Greg, Diane and Sam, Lucy and Ricky, neither Marni nor Nate has the edge on kookiness. Equally unstable in the extreme, they have found, against all odds, validation and comfort in the other.
Their relationship is the show’s ongoing joke, and a rich one: Who can help laughing at these crazy kids, but also rooting for them as nature takes its kookie course!
“Rather than seeing Nate’s neuroses as craziness, she sees them as brilliance,” marvels Finnigan, noting that when (on Tuesday’s episode) Marni gets a first look at his apartment, swamped by books, curios and legal pads, this twisted sight thrills her. “It’s like standing inside of his brain,”’ Marni chirps.
“She’s nutty and free-spirited and honest,” says Finnigan. “She has a childlike innocence, the way she looks at the world.
“But there’s much more going on under the surface. This is probably so contrary to what the writers think, but I like to imagine that she’s got a lot of sadness in her, and that a lot of her behavior comes out of denial.”
Digging into an egg-white fritata at breakfast at her hotel last week, Finnigan radiates the room-illuminating qualities that make Marni adorable.
But she cops to non-Marni-esque angst. Example: Ratings anxiety, as evidenced by the cell phone parked beside her breakfast plate. Why wasn’t someone from the network calling with the overnight ratings for her show’s premiere? (As it turns out, both the Tuesday and Thursday airings score healthy Nielsen numbers.)
Filming wrapped on the 13-episode order in November, says Finnigan.
“We got to work every day in our own little bubble, without the pressures from ratings, critics or network scrutiny. It felt like our own little community theater.”
On the other hand, she describes waiting to get on the air as “a nightmare.”
From soaps to ‘Jordan’An early phobia first steered her into acting.
“I was so shy as a kid,” says the 25-year-old Montreal native, the daughter of Diane, an airlines reservation agent, and Jack, a local radio personality. “Then, when I was 12, I joined a community theater group, and it was amazing how in that hour of class I was an extrovert. As soon as I got back to real life, I couldn’t get up in front of a class of 20 without sweating.
“Initially, that’s why I kept acting: It was freeing, so freeing.”
As a teen, Finnigan found success on Canadian TV. Then she headed to Los Angeles, where for four years on the CBS soap “The Bold and the Beautiful” she played Bridget Forrester, a good girl whose many woes included her mother’s pregnancy by Bridget’s own husband.
Last season, she played a pathology resident, Dr. Devan Maguire, on the NBC crime drama “Crossing Jordan.”
Then she read for the part of Marni on “Committed.” But she felt nervous at the prospect of doing a comedy.
“I had no comedy experience — neither of us did,” she says, also meaning Cooke, her eventual co-star, whose prior roles had largely been guest shots on episodic dramas.
“When I found out they wanted me to come back, I called my agent and said, ‘I gotta meet this guy they hired to be Nate.’ I did it behind everyone’s back. We met for crepes. He had an accident on his motorcycle — some fender-bender thing — so he was late.
“Then, when he sat down, I decided to be in character. So I assumed the part of Marni, which I think he found very weird and strange. But he was so sweet, and we had a really nice time.”
Who needs an emergency exit?