The most frustrating turn in any romantic comedy is when the leading lady and/or man becomes a jerk. It’s a crucial moment — necessary, even — but it’s always the hump you have to endure in order to get to the part where everyone learns their lesson, embraces their truth, and kisses their hot crush to the triumphant swell of an impossibly catchy pop song that will nonetheless fade from memory by the time the credits roll. Without that annoying blip of tension, that payoff won’t be half as sweet — or, truth be told, half as earned.
Such is the conundrum facing “Partner Track,” Netflix’s frothy new comedy based on Helen Wan’s novel about lawyers fighting tooth and nail to become partner, if only they could stop getting distracted by each other. Ingrid (Arden Cho) is the firm’s determined golden girl, especially because she’s always willing to work overtime and do everything her mercurial boss (Matthew Rauch) tells her, no matter how morally questionable. As she tells us in the pilot’s peppy opening narration, she chose to go into Mergers and Acquisitions because that’s what all the best corporate lawyers do. That she’s often compromising her values or throwing friends like Rachel (Alexandra Turshen) and Tyler (Bradley Gibson) under the bus to climb the company ladder is, she reasons, an inevitable hazard of the job.
This could make for an interesting conflict, especially when paired with Ingrid struggling to reconcile her ambition with the the firm’s complete bungling of a racist incident involving her biggest, frattiest competition (Nolan Gerard Funk) midway through the season. Ingrid’s frustration at being the office’s token Asian American woman when all she wants is to be thought of as a lawyer, period, gives the show some of its best and most insightful material. Getting to that point, though, means wading through the first few episodes, which have enough trouble moving beyond “hello, fellow kids” dialogue that some curious viewers might’ve already tapped out.
Ingrid’s flaws at work might be easier to take if her romantic life at least had enough fizz to keep the show afloat. But here, too, “Partner Track” falls short, throwing rote dialogue masquerading as “steamy banter” at a love triangle without any heat. On the one hand, there’s besotted rich guy Nick (Rob Heaps), the seemingly perfect fit for Ingrid who nonetheless, as TikTok would put it, gives her “the ick.” On the other is Jeff Murphy (Dominic Sherwood), the ostensibly dashing London transfer. Jeff apparently crossed paths with Ingrid years earlier at a wedding in a way that’s had her fantasizing about him ever since. But it’s hard to buy that when Cho and Sherwood have so little chemistry that even the show’s ample use of sexy slo-mo can’t sell the sexual tension the pairing so desperately needs. If it weren’t for the scripts insisting that Ingrid and Jeff are endgame, in fact, it would be easier to believe that she might be destined for another kind of opposites-attract romance with Z (Desmond Chiam), a client’s son whose ideals keep clashing with the firm’s lack thereof, and with whom Ingrid has the biggest spark even in their brief scenes together.
It’s a shame that so much of the show never quite gels, given the potential laden in its premise, characters, and supporting ensemble. Turshen, Gibson and Funk are especially good as their characters stumble and get more screentime away from Ingrid — which is, perhaps, indicative of how much time Ingrid spends being one of the least compelling parts of her own show. If “Partner Track” were a 95 minute movie, it would’ve had to make sharper edits in its story and meandering dialogue. It might’ve found a bouncier rhythm to take it from one scene to the next. But with 10 episodes to fill, “Partner Track” spends way too long showing Ingrid stuck in immoral quagmires to make her eventual redemption all that satisfying.
“Partner Track” is now available to stream on Netflix.