The main girl or leading man turning into a jerk is the most annoying development in any romantic comedy. The part where everyone learns their lesson accepts their reality and kisses their hot crush to the triumphal swell of a really popular pop song that will nonetheless fade from memory by the time the credits roll is always the hump you have to get through. That payout wouldn’t be half as sweet, or, to be honest, half as deserved, without that annoying blip of anxiety.
This is the dilemma that “Partner Track,” a bubbly new comedy from Netflix based on Helen Wan’s novel about lawyers who are battling it out to become partners, if only they could stop getting sidetracked by each other, faces. Arden Cho’s character, Ingrid, is the firm’s tenacious golden girl because she constantly agrees to put in extra hours and follow her capricious boss Matthew Rauch’s orders, no matter how dubious they may be. She explains that she went into mergers and acquisitions since that’s what the finest corporate lawyers do in the witty opening voiceover of the pilot. She justifies that she frequently compromises her morals or puts friends like Tyler (Bradley Gibson) and Rachel (Alexandra Turshen) in danger to move up the corporate ladder.
When combined with Ingrid’s struggle to reconcile her ambition with the firm’s utter mishandling of a racist event involving her biggest, sassiest rival (Nolan Gerard Funk) midway through the season, this might make for an intriguing clash. The show’s strongest and most informative scenes come from Ingrid’s annoyance at being the only Asian American woman in the office when all she wants is to be taken seriously as a lawyer. To get there, however, requires sitting through the first few episodes, which have so many difficulties progressing past the “hello, fellow youngsters” conversation that some interested viewers may already have lost interest.
If Ingrid’s romantic life at least had enough zing to keep the program going, her shortcomings at work could be easier to overlook. But once again, “Partner Track” falls short, presenting a lackluster love triangle with formulaic language that passes for “steamy banter.” On the one side, there’s the smitten rich guy Nick (Rob Heaps), who seems like the ideal match for Ingrid but gives her “the ick,” as TikTok would say. Jeff Murphy (Dominic Sherwood), the purportedly brisk London transfer, is on the other. Ingrid reportedly first seen Jeff at a wedding years before, and ever since, she’s been having fantasies about him. But it’s difficult to believe that when Cho and Sherwood exhibit such a lack of chemistry, not even the show’s liberal application of sensual slow motion can convey the sex tension the couple so sorely needs. If the scripts didn’t insist that Ingrid and Jeff are the endgames, it might be simpler to accept that she might be destined for a different type of opposites-attract relationship with Z (Desmond Chiam), a client’s son whose ideals constantly clash with the firm’s lack of them and with whom Ingrid has the biggest spark even in their brief scenes together.
Given the potential buried in the show’s premise, characters, and supporting cast, it’s a shame that so much of it never fully clicks. As their characters falter and have more screen time away from Ingrid, Turshen, Gibson, and Funk stand out as particularly strong performers. This may be a reflection of the fact that Ingrid spends a lot of time is one of the least interesting aspects of her program. The story and the rambling conversation would have needed to be tighter edited if “Partner Track” had been a 95-minute film. Going from one scene to the next might have discovered a bouncy rhythm. However, “Partner Track” spends far too much time depicting Ingrid trapped in unethical quagmires with just 10 episodes to complete, making her eventual salvation less fulfilling.