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Review: 'Accidentally on Purpose' on CBS

TELEVISION REVIEW

Jenna Elfman's career won't likely advance in this slight comedy about a career woman who's unexpectedly pregnant. But the door is open to interesting plot directions.

September 21, 2009|ROBERT LLOYD | TELEVISION CRITIC

First impressions count, and "Accidentally on Purpose," the new Jenna Elfman comedy, begins with a poor one. Ashley Jensen -- an intelligent, subtle actress who has done lovely work on "Ugly Betty" and "Extras" -- speaks: "I can't do another office party; I've already slept with everyone here."

Alas, poor Ashley. Seconds later, she is advising Elfman, who is here named Billie and has slept only with their boss (Grant Show), to "perk up" her nipples to attract his attention. This Billie duly attempts, flicking fingers at her chest. It hurts! Alas, poor Family Hour!

Perhaps this would make more sense if these were not the offices of a -- sound of clearing throat -- daily newspaper. (I can say with a fair amount of assurance that the words, "I can't do another office party; I've already slept with everyone here," have never been said at this newspaper, at least not in that order.) But, whatever! Billie, we see in a flashback, left the paper's dashing "gajillionaire" owner atop the Eiffel Tower (pause again for moment of cognitive dissonance), when he surprised her not with a hoped-for wedding ring but a piece of marzipan in the shape of a camera, "because you're a film critic -- the best one at my newspaper." Billie is a film critic partly because Mary F. Pols, who wrote the memoir on which the show is loosely based, has been a film critic herself, though for the purposes of the series -- which will find her pregnant after a random night with the very much younger Zack (Jon Foster) -- it signals that she is both arty and responsible, grown but not grown old. (Though, apart from a Meg Ryan joke and a reference to "Gone With the Wind," there is nothing of the film critic about her -- where is the obsessiveness, the pallor?)

Zack, on the other hand, is a person of a no fixed abode, apart from his van, which tells us he is yet unformed, though his job as the "second assistant to a semi-important sous-chef" distinguishes him from his cartoon-slacker friends.

The show bears easy comparison to Judd Apatow's "Knocked Up," and there is some confluence with Courteney Cox's new series, "Cougar Town." But it also has something in common with its network neighbor "The Big Bang Theory," another culture-clash comedy featuring a hot blond and a clutch of socially backward young men.

Except for "Townies," the unusually naturalistic 1996 sitcom that teamed her with Molly Ringwald, Lauren Graham and Ron Livingston, I have liked Elfman, who is serendipitously pregnant herself, more than the vehicles that have carried her across the years. "Accidentally on Purpose" does not threaten to reverse that trend, not yet. Everything in the pilot, written by executive producer Claudia Lonow, is a hair or three too strenuous; Billie has been knocked down to a few easy-to-grasp impulses, and almost all the other roles are filled by stereotypes -- Jensen's most wastefully -- in stereotypical relationships. Nevertheless, the premise is full of interesting possibilities about love and age and unconventional parenting. (So far it has been mostly about sex.) They are only possibilities from here, but they are there for the taking.

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robert.lloyd@latimes.com

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'Accidentally on Purpose'

Where: CBS

When: 8:30 tonight

Rating: TV-PG-DLS (may be unsuitable for young children, with advisories for suggestive dialogue, coarse language and sex)

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