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TELEVISION REVIEW

Different sex, same city

'Love Monkey' manages to charm, even though you've seen it all before. And it gets the record business right (almost).

January 17, 2006|Robert Lloyd | Times Staff Writer

In spite of the intense air of deja vu it generates, there is a lot to like about "Love Monkey" (perhaps not including its title), yet another comic tale of Urban Singlehood, which begins a midseason run tonight on CBS. There's scarcely a moment, group dynamic or character relationship you haven't encountered somewhere before -- indeed, CBS' own "How I Met Your Mother" is much the same show, as is ABC's "Jake in Progress." But (like those series) it is so well assembled and well played that its contrivances and cliches play like something reasonably close to life.

Based on a novel of the same name by Kyle Smith, "Love Monkey" retains some of the names and character relations from the book, as well as its intention to reveal the sad secrets of modern maledom in its search for love and/or sex. "I played the field and the field won," says central character Tom Farrell (Tom Cavanagh, who was eponymously "Ed") in a line imported from the print version. Tom has been promoted here from Smith's tabloid newspaper "rewrite man" to the more glamorous and dramatically colorful job of hotshot A&R rep, which also increases the show's resemblance to the book and film "High Fidelity."

When we meet him, Tom is doing all right by New York City standards, but in a "Jerry Maguire" moment, he gets himself fired (by guest Eric Bogosian) from his plum job at significantly named Goliath Records. He lands eventually at the smaller, groovier, also significantly named True Vinyl Records, where the future object of his desire, the "sublime, glorious, near-perfect" Julia (Ivana Milicevic) works.

Of various television shows over the years that have been set in and around the music business, this is the only one I can recall getting the atmosphere anything close to right, even if the details bend to dramatic convenience. It probably doesn't hurt that the pilot's director is Tamra Davis, who has directed videos for Sonic Youth, Luscious Jackson and the Beastie Boys (to whose Mike D she is married). Still, there are lapses, some small but not insignificant. Tom, for example, wrongly locates the London alley where Bob Dylan's "Subterranean Homesick Blues" film was shot as being in New York, a lazy error a CBS intern with a laptop could have avoided in two minutes of fact-checking. I'll admit that I'm a nerd for caring, but the character is supposed to be the same sort of nerd. (He not only knows Sid Vicious' given name, but that he was "Sly" to his friends.)

More significantly discordant is the fact that Tom characterizes Wayne, the teenage phenom he "discovers" and tries to sign in tonight's episode, as a "genius," which is a word that ought to be reserved for geniuses. Wayne is played by actual teenage phenom Teddy Geiger, soon to have an album out on Sony; Sony Pictures Television, possibly not coincidentally, co-produces "Love Monkey." Geiger, while indeed a precocious and beautiful young man whose modern power-balladry may quite possibly sell millions of records and produce large bonus checks for his real-life A&R reps, is not the sort of artist Tom, if we're to believe him as musically astute as we're told he is, would see as anything but a cash cow. (He also disses Hanson, which no halfway hip music person would ever do.)

The ensemble is strong. Cavanagh is good-looking in a regular-guy way and makes Tom likable by self-deprecation, a little bit of awkwardness and a rapid deadpan delivery -- he sells his punch lines by half-burying them. His circle of friends includes Jason Priestley, following fellow "Beverly Hills, 90210" alum Brian Austin Greene (currently on ABC's "Freddie") into profitable second-bananahood, as Tom's enthusiastically domestic brother-in-law; Larenz Tate as Shooter, Tom's Rich Friend; and Christopher Wiehl as Jake, a baseball player turned sportswriter and Tom's Gay Friend. They discuss all sorts of things my guy friends never discuss, at least not with me -- this is not the first series to seek the elusive crown of Male "Sex and the City."

Better are the scenes between Tom and girl friend (not girlfriend) Bran (Judy Greer), a standard part that Greer makes lively and believable, and with sister Karen (Katherine LaNasa). They are that rare thing on TV: adult siblings who like each other.

*

`Love Monkey'

Where: CBS

When: 10 to 11 p.m. tonight

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