BY TOM GLIATTO
Julia Louis-Dreyfus's new sitcom suggests Seinfeld's Elaine weighed down and slowed down by a few crucial chapters of adulthood, with no David Puddy in sight to keep things loosey-goosey. Christine Campbell, owner of a gym, is single mother to an 8-year-old. She has recently enrolled him in a private school and endures pangs of social inadequacy confronting the other mothers. (She looks like a little horse swallowing nettles.) She and her ex-husband are amicable, except that he's acquired an adorable young girlfriend, also named Christine. Old Christine, meeting her, fibs that she has a boyfriend, too. A lumberjack—a rich one. Louis-Dreyfus responds to this vehicle much more warmly than her previous short-lived sitcom, Watching Ellie. She's trying to create a real woman, whining, sighing, laughing, getting by, being silly. It's rather endearing.
NBC (Wednesdays, 10 p.m. ET)
A master robber takes his new team out to L.A.'s Rodeo Drive, pointing out the jewelry stores they're going to hit in one elaborate heist—timed to the Oscars. "We go during Academy Awards week," he explains, "when the most expensive jewelry on the planet will be moving through these stores." It almost sounds as if Billy Bush had turned to a life of crime.
But the first episode of this projected 13-part series has real bite. That's probably because it's directed as well as co-executive produced by Doug Liman, a filmmaker who has dependably brought a special touch—slick, nervy, unsentimental—to thrillers like The Bourne Identity
and Mr. & Mrs. Smith
. The premiere tends to overlay what should be simple suspense scenes with too much pseudo-smart-cynical patter. (Would thieves really debate whether Mother Teresa had suffered a spiritual crisis?) And as the leader, Dougray Scott (Mission: Impossible 2
) is focused, smooth, softly weathered, nothing like Billy Bush, only you might wish for someone with more streetwise grit, a Benicio Del Toro. But then the show delivers an incident of such callous, casual violence—as mean as anything out of Quentin Tarantino—that you may need a few moments to process what you've just seen. The show has guts, in more ways than one.
ABC (Wednesdays, 10 p.m. ET)
The narrative for this new detective series is moored in an opening segment that presents bits of evidence that will figure in solving the mystery—a cell phone with blood smeared on the buttons, for instance, and, of course, the poor lamentable corpse itself. As the story progresses, the significance of each piece is revealed. It's meant to feel like a puzzle being brought to completion, but for some reason I kept getting an image of magnets being thrown randomly at a refrigerator and sticking with a soft click. Which is another way of saying the gimmick isn't as dead-on as it needs to be.
Apart from the evidence, there are also living human beings, notably Rob Estes and Orlando Jones as two San Francisco inspectors. Estes, a familiar face from Melrose Place and the cable crime show Silk Stalkings, has cut his hair down to stubble and pulls off the trick of looking glamorously grim, like a mannequin made of ash. Jones, an actor who always seems to know exactly what he's doing, is the livelier of the two. Martin Landau, as a scientific expert, bustles in and out in a white lab coat, looking like a harried pharmacist who wants to get back to filling prescriptions.
FOX (Thursdays, 8:30 p.m. ET)
This is really two separate sitcoms connected by a thin thread that should've been snipped. The better half, set in a struggling airline based in Chicago, is about a smart but overwhelmed new executive. Sam (Bret Harrison) looks young enough to have gone to business school with Frankie Muniz. He scrambles around with a nervous, rather pathetic smile while being barked at by the boss (Philip Baker Hall, who's very good playing a captain of commerce without all his marbles). He's also constantly hit on by another, middle-aged executive (Mimi Rogers, looking lean, cruel and bemused). The whole thing has a enjoyable jumpy bluntness to it. Then there's the other half.
Sam goes home to a house he shares with an older, lank-haired brother who can't hold a job and a beautiful med student who doesn't realize that Sam loves her. What original characters! They all spend a lot of time going out and getting drunk, then Sam straggles back to the office and somehow survives another day. But wouldn't Sam have moved out long ago? What junior executive ever took John Belushi as a role model?
It's not easy going it alone without Jerry. Here's a look at Seinfeld alums trying to break out with their own starring vehicles.
Jason Alexander's Bob Patterson
: lasted 5 episodes.
Michael Richards's The Michael Richards Show
: lasted 8 episodes.
Julia Louis-Dreyfus's Watching Ellie
: lasted 18 episodes.
The Surreal Life
(VH1, March 19, 9 p.m. ET) Company loves misery. Season No. 6 includes Sherman Hemsley, Tawny Kitaen and Florence Henderson giving advice.
(CBS, March 19, 9 p.m. ET) David Arquette as a Homeland Security agent trying to stop terrorists from blowing up a stadium. With, you know, people in it.
(FOX, March 20, 8 p.m. ET) When we left Wentworth Miller and his fellow prisoners in November, their breakout wasn't going well. This is a fun show, and good to have back.
Blow Out 3
(Bravo, March 21, 9 p.m. ET) The salon life, the high life with stylist Jonathan Antin. First of seven episodes.
(Discovery, March 19, 9 p.m. ET) And an imperfect disaster would be...? New series imagines a solar storm knocking out Manhattan and a massive flood swamping London.
Former Melrose Place
lovebirds Daphne Zuniga, 43, and Grant Show, 44, play a divorced couple with child custody issues on ABC Family's Beautiful People
, which returned March 6. They talked to PEOPLE about their relationship, then and now.
WHOSE IDEA WAS IT TO CAST GRANT AS YOUR CHARACTER LYNN'S EX-HUSBAND?
Zuniga: Our creator, Michael Rauch, came to me and said, "How do you like Grant Show?" And I said, "I love Grant Show!" And they called him right away.
Show: I'd been seeing a Beautiful People
billboard for months. Just that day I thought, "They oughta give me a call to come work with her." I swear to God, five minutes later, the phone rang.
HAVE YOU STAYED IN TOUCH?
Show: We'll go out to dinner in L.A.
Zuniga: We'll call each other and see each other when we can.
DO YOU THINK ABOUT THOSE MELROSE DAYS VERY OFTEN?
Zuniga: I'll look at him and think I'm back there, 10 years younger. Then I realize the girls playing my daughters are 20. They don't even know Melrose Place
Show: They knew we were on some big TV show.
Zuniga: This [situation] was perfect. Our first scene was in the doorway of an apartment building. I was having Melrose
déjà vu all day long. Truly.
WILL THERE EVER BE A MELROSE PLACE REUNION?
Zuniga: It would be like, "Why?" Unless they were to say, "Here's a bunch of money."
Show: Months ago, I would say absolutely no. Now, I don't know. I'll think about it when they ask me.
CBS (Mondays, 9:30 p.m. ET)