How Do You Solve a Problem Like the Rom-Com? Three Comedians Try.

In the podcast “Let’s Make a Rom-Com,” the hosts attempt to put the spark back into a familiar and underrated genre.

Rain-drenched kisses abound in romantic comedies, including (from top) “Garden State,” “The Notebook” and “Four Weddings and a Funeral.”Credit…From top: Searchlight Pictures; New Line Cinema; Gramercy Pictures

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By Alexis Soloski

Mark Chavez thought that it would be so simple. Chavez, a Vancouver-based actor and comic, had seen plenty of romantic comedies. He understood the deep structure of the genre, the various story beats that pushed a couple from meet cute to final clinch.

“I went in feeling a bit overconfident,” Chavez said during a recent video call. “I was like, ‘This will be easy! Plug and play. Just look at every rom-com!’”

On Valentine’s Day, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation is releasing “Let’s Make a Rom-Com,” a podcast featuring Chavez alongside his fellow comedians Ryan Beil and Maddy Kelly. Over eight episodes, the three record themselves as they script an original, feature-length romantic comedy, treating the genre with commitment and sincerity. Or as much sincerity as people who knowingly pitch ideas like “Spybrarian,” “1-900 SANTA” and “Love Bermuda Triangle” can muster.

This is the show’s second season, following last year’s “Let’s Make a Sci-Fi,” which the CBC estimates has been downloaded more than a quarter of a million times. On that earlier podcast, the creators wrote a pilot for an earnest series called “Progeny,” set aboard a generational ship sent to colonize a new world. Devising that script meant acquiring a working knowledge of astrophysics. Writing a romantic comedy, the “Let’s Make” team learned, was harder — in large part because the genre felt exhausted.

“Everything has happened,” Chavez sighed. “Everything’s been done.”

“Let’s Make a Rom-Com” arrives at (yet another) fraught moment for romantic comedy. As a film species, it has its origins in the screwball comedies and comedies of manners of the 1930s, reaching its apogee in the 1980s and 1990s, courtesy of the zippy banter of Nora Ephron and the gleaming kitchens of the filmmaker Nancy Meyers.

But for decades, it has been fashionable to announce the death of the romantic comedy. It was sexual liberation that killed it. Or unfeeling studio executives. Or Katherine Heigl. (Heigl, for the record, sees it as the other way around.) Or critics, some of whom have dinged it for its focus on white, straight affluent characters and its reinforcing of traditional gender norms.

When it comes to theatrical releases, audiences no longer show up for rom-coms as they once did. Last year, the box office implosion of “Bros,” billed as the first gay rom-com wide-released by a major studio, seemed to sound another death knell, with at least one critic arguing that the genre conventions were the problem. Last year, “Ticket to Paradise,” starring two of the world’s most bankable stars in George Clooney and Julia Roberts, and “The Lost City,” starring Sandra Bullock and Channing Tatum, were the only rom-coms to crack the top 50 at the box office.

Yet the genre is flourishing on streaming services. In the week before Valentine’s Day, three new films were released: “Somebody I Used to Know” on Amazon Prime Video; “Your Place Or Mine” on Netflix; and “At Midnight” on Paramount+. Unlike the skin of the films’ leads, the reviews have been less than glowing. (“As phony and flat as a store-bought valentine,” read the review of “Your Place or Mine” in The New York Times.) But the demand remains. Another romantic comedy, “You People,” was the most streamed film on Netflix during the week beginning Jan. 23.

Despite ratings like these, the romantic comedy, as typically practiced, tends to command less respect than other types of films, and its enjoyment is seen as a niche pleasure and a guilty one, paradoxically less mainstream than an enthusiasm for caped men.

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