Have you ever watched a documentary on the bizarre mating practices of some species of animal and wondered how human beings would measure up? With all the intricacies of the modern human mating dance, fraught with so many opportunities for miscues and failures, it's amazing that any of us get together at all, let alone mate and reproduce. That's the premise of this romantic comedy. a quirky, irreverent and unique "mockumentary" look at sexual attraction, love, single life, and dating in the late nineties as seen through the eyes of a misinformed, though completely authoritative extra-terrestrial narrator.
We follow The Male (Mackenzie Astin) and The Female (Carmen Electra), from their introduction ritual at the sacred meeting ground--an L.A. night club--through the complex, mysterious pre-mating rituals we all know, yet none of us seem able to master. Primordial first dates, the eternal quest for peer approval, and the dreaded parental introductions. Everything seems to go wrong as the male and female navigate the timeless maze of emotions, expectations and pain on the way to love and marriage. And in the end maybe they'll even end up where this journey was supposed to take them--parenthood and the perpetuation of this crazy species.
The film opens with unintelligible sounds and an apparently matching unintelligible text unfolding on the screen. Each change appears to be a translation of another language until we begin to hear more familiar Earthbound languages...then, in English:
"Please adjust your universal translator to the language of your understanding--we will begin in 10 seconds..."
Then, a confident, seemingly knowledgeable voice begins to narrate what appears to be a simple romantic comedy--a friendly, boyish, and handsome young man spots a fresh, lovely, and sexy young woman dancing in a club and makes an awkward attempt to meet and impress her.
However, the studious and pontificating voice comments on nearly every action that takes place in the club--much like the seemingly all-knowing narrator of a nature documentary such as "The Nesting Practices of The Platypus" or "Meet The Wood Louse."
As we leave the club, we find that we are, in fact, watching a documentary from another world--"The Mating Habits Of The Earthbound Human," where an extra-terrestrial film crew (invisible, perhaps, or so small that we wouldn't notice them around?) has traveled to Earth to capture the images of the courtship and reproduction of the human species so as to inform the more intelligent citizens of the universe.
As for the narrator (David Hyde Pierce) he is utterly certain, if not pompous about every aspect of human behavior that he witnesses, wrong though he may be. When The Male agonizes over misplacing the phone number of The Female, we Earthbound folk can certainly sympathize, but the ever-present narrator can only assume it's business as usual.
Once things work out and the couple finally manage to go out on a date, and we see them comfortably getting to know one another while parked on Mullholland Drive, watching an L.A. sunset from high above the San Fernando Valley, the narrator notes calmly that "most say that this is the most beautiful aspect of the human mating ritual... other than the copulation..."
We go on to see the relationship develop through meeting the hostile father of The Female (Leo Rossi), and the goofy parents of The Male (Jack Kehler and Sharon Wyatt), the confusing, though well-meaning advice of the couple's closest friends (Markus Redmond, Lucy Liu, and Lisa Rotondi) as the couple continue through more and more intimate sexual behavior culminating in the risky contraceptive practice of "I'll pull out!"
When writer-director Jeff Abugov found himself channel-surfing one night a couple of years ago, he settled on a nature documentary, like we have all seen many times. As the dry, over-confident narrator droned on about how the male licked the female's eggs for reproductive purposes, Abugov stopped to wonder... "How does HE know that? Maybe the male just gets off on it!"
This stuck in his mind long enough to survive his writing a screenplay that built on the notion of what such a nature documentary might be if the subject was the Human Being and the documentarian had no real personal knowledge of the world he was documenting. Since he had spent the last few years writing and producing some of network television's most successful sitcoms, including Cheers, Roseanne, and Grace Under Fire, he made the screenplay very, very funny.
When he decided that this was a screenplay that he would save for himself to direct, he soon found himself hooked up with a producer who had no fear of ushering a first-time director through the mysterious process. Larry Estes had served as producer on The Simpsons writer Wallace Wolodarsky's directorial debut Coldblooded, starring Jason Priestley, Peter Riegert, and Kimberly Williams. Abugov and Estes hooked up while Estes was finishing production of first-time director Andrew Shea's Santa Fe and looking ahead to first-time director Chris Eyre's film of writer Sherman Alexie's Smoke Signals.
Estes was immediately enthusiastic about the unique script and began assembling the cast and crew for the film which would suddenly experience a false start just as pre-production was to begin. All was on hold while Estes went off to join producer Scott Rosenfelt and produce Smoke Signals, and Abugov wrote and consulted on Caroline In The City as well as developed his own sitcom pilots.
Just as Smoke Signals was opening in theatres across the country this past summer, new financing came into place and The Mating Habits Of The Earthbound Human was again in pre-production. After a fairly extensive casting search for a Male and Female who were funny, attractive, and had the kind of chemistry that audiences adore in a romantic comedy, Abugov and Estes considered themselves amazingly fortunate to cast Mackenzie Astin and Carmen Electra.
Astin and Electra auditioned together before a video camera one afternoon in Beverly Hills to make sure they would work well together on-screen and that audiences would root for them on their difficult path toward mating. Once the couple were in place, David Hyde Pierce agreed to take time off from his Emmy-winning work on Frasier to provide the voice and dead-on character of the extraterrestrial narrator.
The film was set to shoot on several locations around the Los Angeles area and settle into the Lacy Street stages for the majority of the interior scenes. Shooting time was precious and (other than meals and sleep, and the occasional day off) did not stop even for the live coverage of President Clinton's "OK, maybe I DID have an inappropriate sexual relationship with Ms. Lewinsky..." speech that happened during the last week of shooting.