Picks and Pans Review: Joey

updated 09/13/2004 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 09/13/2004 AT 01:00 AM EDT

NBC (Thursdays, 8 p.m. ET)

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When Friends did its slow fade-out last spring, Ross and Rachel were together again at last, Chandler and Monica were headed to the suburbs with their twin babies, Phoebe was talking about having a kid with Mike—and Joey Tribbiani still wasn't very bright.

Well, Joey (Matt LeBlanc) now has his own series, and it looks pretty promising. Deep down he may be pining for Rachel, but his new life should hold some consolation.

The Sept. 9 premiere transports Joey from New York to Los Angeles, where he hopes to further his acting career. His first big opportunity is the lead role in a cable cop show that looks ridiculously cheap and violent. All we see of it is a fight scene that leaves Joey drenched in fake blood and delighted by his own performance. The "How'm I doin'?" look on his face should be enough to convince Friends fans that their boy hasn't lost his goofy charm. Also contributing to the show-business humor is Jennifer Coolidge as Joey's bellowing agent, Bobbie, who may be better at giving him grief than finding him work.

His sister Gina (Drea de Matteo from The Sopranos) welcomes Joey to L.A. with open arms—which leads to a hug, which leads to one of many jokes about her breast implants. When not indulging its mammary fixation, the opening script succeeds in establishing Gina as feisty, rough-edged and not so supportive that she's blind to Joey's faults. Paulo Costanzo(Road Trip) is funny and commendably restrained as Gina's son Michael, a 20-year-old brainiac who wants to move out of Mom's house and taste greater freedom as his bachelor uncle's roommate. But Andrea Anders seems a little too generic as Alex, the pretty lawyer next door.

Near the end, the transplanted Joey gives a too serious speech about the challenge of change that sounds suspiciously like a justification for this spinoff. "You're smarter than you used to be," Gina says. Hey, he's entitled to a measure of personal growth. It's his show.


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