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No fairy tales, just creepy humor in `Wedding Bells'

March 07, 2007|Paul Brownfield | Times Staff Writer

Do you, David Edward Kelley, take this pilot, "The Wedding Bells," to be your lawfully wedded show, to have and to hold, through sickness and in health, good lines and bad, for as long as you both shall live and/or two to six weeks, whichever comes first?

I now pronounce you executive producer and stale show on Fox.

"The Wedding Bells" honeymoons tonight after "American Idol" before taking up residence in a shabby fixer of a time slot, Friday nights at 9.

The show returns Kelley, the creator of "The Practice," "Ally McBeal" and "Boston Legal," to his network TV fiefdom but not to the subject matter he does best. The law is his comfort zone, the firm his template; it's via poking holes in the attorney-client relationship and sending up judges that Kelley has excelled as a network dramatist, exploring the various paradoxes of his onetime profession, making fun of its hams and dreaming of how the larger world might enter in.

Is Kelley done with the legal show, as he has a right to be, or are we? Apparently he's adapting the BBC series "Life on Mars" next, and he came up with "The Wedding Bells" after Fox pulled another of its wedding-themed pilots.

Like the comedy "Big Day" on ABC, it's about the fresh hell of trying to segment-produce marriages among the neurotic entitled class. The schadenfreude is an easy hook, and confident of this, "The Wedding Bells" lurches between outright farce and outright sentiment.

The Bell girls -- Jane (Teri Polo), Annie (KaDee Strickland) and Sammy (Sarah Jones) -- have taken over their divorced parents' wedding-planner business, a mansion on a hill called the Wedding Palace. They're a plucky bunch of secret agents trying to pull off the ultimate bloodless coup -- getting two people to pledge undying love to each other when that concept only negligibly exists.

It takes a total team effort -- including the willingness of the wedding singer (Chris Williams) to belt "I Will Survive."

The pilot opens with a runaway bride, the sisters giving chase. The bride-to-be is a miserable stuck-up cradling her pug. The Bell girls flutter about her like courtiers in the Emma Thompson mold, though as characters there's deceptively little to them. Jane's rational, in a sex-starved marriage; Annie's emotionally closed off; and Sammy's open for business 24-7.

"By a show of hands, how many of you wanna sleep with me?" Sammy asks a conga line of groomsmen.

This is Kelley's brand of comedy -- the primal instinct given articulation, in otherwise inappropriate settings (i.e. the courtroom).

Kelley shoehorns in love stories -- as well as patented class and ethnic commentating, as when the mother of the bride (played by Delta Burke) offers Sammy $500 for two mentions of Jesus in the ceremony. "My little baby's marrying a Jew," she says. "I have no problem with this, they're very nice people.... The $500 is for you to get the mail-order minister to slip in Jesus twice."

Mom has defective tear ducts -- metaphor alert! I'm not sure why, exactly, but Kelley's humor -- here and on hits such as "Ally" and "Boston Legal" -- creeps me out a little.

In the first hour of "The Wedding Bells," an old guy shows Sammy his false teeth, the flower girls marvel at the presence of a black woman ("Do you have a record?" one asks), and Jane cautions the chef that the Wedding Palace is already the subject of a complaint to the Anti-Defamation League. The Epsteins, apparently, reported unauthorized shrimp in the marinara as a hate crime. Lawyers.


`The Wedding Bells'

Where: Fox

When: 9 to 10 tonight; regular time 9 to 10 p.m. Fridays

Rating: TV-14-DLS (may be unsuitable for children under the age of 14, with advisories for coarse language, suggestive dialogue and sex)

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