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With the official start of the 2005-06 season less than two months away, the drumbeats have begun by the networks to tout their new comedies and dramas. What should you keep your eye out for? What should you avoid at all costs? While it's still a little early for full reviews (some recasting and reshooting will be done on a good chunk of them), we thought we'd spend the next month previewing what's in store for the upcoming season. Each day we'll look at two of the 47 new series set to premiere this season and go over our initial impressions after viewing the pilot.
There's no particular order here, just whatever's next on the stack of tapes. So without further ado, here's today's entries:
LOVE, INC (UPN)
(Thursdays at 9:30/8:30c this fall)
The network's description: "LOVE, INC. (Thursday, 9:30-10:00 PM) follows Denise Johnson, an energetic, pragmatic young woman who takes pride in her success as a full-service dating consultant. As the female version of a "wingman," this savvy matchmaker and her quirky co-workers help lovelorn single men, and even women, present the best image possible to just the right prospects. Skilled at helping her clients find their seemingly unattainable soulmates, Denise continues to grapple with her inability to find one herself. The series stars Shannen Doherty ("Charmed") as Denise, Reagan Gomez-Preston ("Beauty Shop") as Francine, Vince Vieluf ("Grind") as Barry, Ion Overman ("General Hospital") as Viviana, and Holly Robinson Peete ("For Your Love") as Clea."
What did they leave out: As widely reported, Busy Philipps ("Dawson's Creek") is replacing Shannen Doherty in the lead role. The version I saw featured Doherty.
The plot in a nutshell: Denise Johnson (Shannen Doherty) is a "wingwoman," that is, she helps single men find eligible women and teaches them how to talk to them. The pilot opens as she assists her latest client in his efforts to attract the attention of a girl he likes at a club. A figurative snap of her fingers later, he gets an opening after she pretends to break with him (i.e. "you're just too great a lover!") in front of her. But just like Jane Austen's Emma, Denise may be successful in setting up others but can't seem to find to "one" for herself. Said issue comes to a head when her ex (the ever-busy Stephen Dunham) re-enters her life (or more appropriately her business - Love, Inc.) asking for help in finding him the right girl. She reluctantly accepts and as you'd expected, things quickly fall apart as Denise wonders why she wasn't the "one" for him and why he left her in the first place. In between her ex-related issues, we meet the rest of the cast, which includes her recently single business partner (Holly Robinson Peete), whom Denise pressures to get out into the dating pool, and friends/co-workers/roommates (not necessarily in that order) Barry (Vince Vieluf), Viviana (Ion Overman) and Francine (Reagan Gomez-Preston). In the end, Denise chooses to make peace with her ex and finds the "one" for him.
What works: Vince Vieluf absolutely steals the show as Denise's oddball roommate and co-worker Barry. He doesn't really serve a purpose other than to loft up some amusing, often unrelated jokes: "Why does TV Guide always have pictures of movie stars on the cover?"
What doesn't: I don't think Doherty's loss makes or breaks the show as it's still just as vanilla as you'd imagine from the description and plot synopsis above. It's hard not to compare the show to the infinitely funnier feature "Hitch," which did a slicker job of establishing the lead's similar talents and dating foibles. That being said, it's certainly not painfully unwatchable like many of this year's comedy newcomers ("Misconceptions," "Modern Men," etc.). But it's also not something I'm going to rush and seek out, especially considering its much more enjoyable competition.
The challenges ahead: Can it find a way to ride the Thursday coattails of the much-hyped "Everybody Hates Chris?" Especially when it's going against the most-watched show on television? We'll find out this fall on UPN.