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TELEVISION & RADIO | FALL TV SEASON

'Eve' may let down even the star's fans

The premiere of the UPN sitcom casts doubt on whether the rapper has the talent to carry her own comedy series.

September 15, 2003|Mimi Avins | Times Staff Writer

Eve, the Grammy-winning rapper who goes by a palindromic monosyllable, might regret telling an interviewer that she wanted her new sitcom, premiering on UPN tonight, to be "kind of like the PG version of 'Sex and the City.' " Inviting comparisons to the naughty, brilliant HBO series does "Eve" no favors. Because in addition to taming the raunch, the newcomer eliminates the wit, heart and intelligence of the hit its star admires.

What's left? An undistinguished show about an unmarried clotheshorse looking for love that goes where so many comedies have gone before -- weakly.

Ever since "That Girl," plucky young women have tried to find lasting romance and professional success in the grown-up world. Mary Richards and Rhoda Morgenstern advanced the formula together, then separately. "Murphy Brown" showed that life doesn't get easier as the birthdays pass and prickliness supplants pluck. More recently "Caroline in the City," "Suddenly Susan" and "Just Shoot Me" offered post-feminist updates from the front. Those shows, which featured actresses crossing over from movies or modeling, and a number of more forgettable attempts soared or sank less on star power than on how cleverly they were written and how entertaining and appealing their ensembles were.

Television comedies, even when they're star vehicles, depend heavily on their supporting characters. The wacky/slutty/stupid pal, the overbearing parent, the egomaniacal boss and the unattainable cute guy must do much of the heavy lifting. It's the rare supernova that can carry a series, week after week.

And the big question, of course, is does Eve deserve to have a show built around her? Judging by the premiere, no. Although she appeared in last year's surprise hit film "Barbershop," she doesn't have the acting ability or high-voltage charisma that vaulted Will Smith from rapper to television star. She rather nicely underplays in "Eve," but it might just seem that way, because most of her comic foils overdo. Some directors can make clashing comic styles harmonious and nurture the timing and energy that the best sitcom casts have. Obviously, and regrettably, James Burrows and Peter Bonerz were unavailable.

The star's identity is so much the point that Eve's show is called "Eve," even though the woman she plays is named Shelly. Whatever. The city, in "Eve's" case, is Miami, where design school graduate Shelly co-owns a shop called Diva Style with best friends Rita (Ali Landry) and Janie (Natalie Desselle). Rita, a former model, and Janie, the requisite happy and wise fat chick, give advice when Eve is lovelorn and listen to her complaints when she's experiencing amorous deprivation.

In tonight's episode, "Worst First Date Ever," Shelly is enduring a 10-month dry spell when she meets J.T. (Jason George) at a club owned by her friend Donovan (Eddie McClintock). Shelly is supposed to be sassy, a woman who knows what she wants and isn't afraid to ask for it. So why is she so timid that she'll only steal a tasty shrimp off J.T.'s dinner plate when he goes to the men's room? Perhaps because some chuckles are wrung from her choking on the purloined crustacean when he returns. Her discomfort would be amusing if Eve were someone who'd rather die than admit she copped a guy's entree. But going for a laugh with behavior that's out of character is like fishing in polluted waters -- it can lead to no good.

Similarly, her friends say she's boyfriendless because she's too picky, which is verified when she gives J.T. big dating demerits for crying at the end of "Casablanca." But at a wedding of mutual friends that turns into Shelly's second date with J.T., she envies the bride and groom, then professes to accept that she might be alone forever. Then she tackles all competition to catch the bride's bouquet. So who is she? The gutsy, independent, choosy Cosmo gal or the desperate, self-pitying singleton? The series intends to watch Shelly and J.T. stumble through their mating dance throughout the season, hampered by commitment phobia and cheered on by a geek chorus of opinionated friends. So perhaps we'll see.

Even fans of her music who tune in may be disappointed; the show's title song was written and performed by Missy Elliott.

The streets are littered with cancellation notices of shows aspiring to be the male version of "Sex and the City," or a younger, older, more serious, or less lily-white incarnation. "Eve" may well be next to land on the heap.

*

'Eve'

Where: UPN

When: 8:30 tonight

Rating: The network has rated it TVPG-L (may be unsuitable for young children, with an advisory for coarse language).

Eve...Shelly Williams

Ali Landry...Rita Lefleur

Natalie Desselle...Janie Egins

Jason George...J.T. Hunter

Brian Hooks...Nick Delaney

Writer-creator: Meg DeLoatch. Director: Ken Whittingham. Executive producers: Robert Greenblatt, David Janollari.

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