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Their connection? It's by pure happenstance in `Six Degrees'

September 21, 2006|Robert Lloyd | Times Staff Writer

COINCIDENCE is the engine that drives drama, which otherwise would too much resemble the way we actually live -- a book might last for 20,000 pages, a movie go on for six weeks before something interesting happened, some little bit of serendipity that made the hair on the back of your neck stand up. Collision and re-collision. It can look like fate or like an accident, depending on how your philosophy inclines, but life would be less fun without it, and TV even worse.

Coincidence is at the very heart of "Six Degrees," a new series from ABC that takes its name from the "six degrees of separation" theory, which holds that you can connect any two people on Earth through a chain of six people (and sometimes less, obviously, unless you want to take the scenic route).

It's odd, in a way, to see this show coming along now, years after John Guare's 1990 play "Six Degrees of Separation" (and its only slightly later movie version) planted the concept firmly in the pop culture. (And gave us "Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon.") But in the way it brings strangers together and explores the idea of connection, it has a lot in common with a number of other shows this season, including "The Nine" and "The Class," and also with "Lost," whose co-creator J.J. Abrams is an executive producer here.

New York is where our story unfolds, the naked city of 8 million stories and the metropolis of happenstance nonpareil, because people there are continually moving about on its sidewalks and bumping up against one another on its subways. Certainly, you couldn't set that show in L.A.; here, we move from house-pod to car-pod to work-pod, possibly stopping off at coffee-pod along the way, and tend to see the same few faces day in and day out.

New York also offers the gift of its locations, which are used abundantly and give the show a sense of reality its script does not always earn. (The actors take up the rest of the slack.) Essentially a rarefied soap opera, it has something of the feel -- notwithstanding some fisticuffs and a bit of gunplay -- of what used to be called a "woman's picture," in which every sleeve has a heart on it and a handkerchief might be called for every 20 minutes or so.

"Six Characters in Search of Each Other" this show might as well be called. When not meeting outright, they pass one another on the street or the subway, sit in the same bars; it is a cute conceit, and sort of fun spotting them as they go by, like an Alfred Hitchcock cameo -- for a while, anyway. I suppose they will ultimately all be on a first-name basis, but for now there are a few degrees of separation yet to go.

The show has an excellent cast, topped off with a bit of indie cred in the form of Hope Davis ("About Schmidt") as widowed mother Laura and Campbell Scott ("Roger Dodger") as formerly successful, now sober art photographer Steve.

As in a novel by Dickens, that past master of coincidence, the characters represent a variety of backgrounds and classes, though I think that's just for color here rather than any kind of social comment.


`Six Degrees'

Where: ABC

When: 10 to 11 tonight

Rating: TV-PG-LV (may be unsuitable for young children, with advisories for coarse language and violence)

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