BALTIMORE'S Bess Armstrong makes her return to series television in ABC's cluttered but promising "Married People," which premieres tonight at 9:30 on Channel 13 (WJZ) before moving into its Wednesday at 9:30 time slot tomorrow night.
The sitcom is set in a New York city brownstone, owned for years by a black couple, in a neighborhood on the north side of Central Park that's undergoing gentrification. That's another way saying that white people are moving in.
Since the kids of the owners, Olivia and Nick (well-played by Barbara Montgomery and Ray Aranha), have grown up and moved out, they decide to take advantage of the neighborhood's change to rent out a couple of apartments at exorbitant Manhattan prices while continuing to live downstairs.
On the second floor are the baby boomer yuppie types. She's a lawyer who's wondering what effect her impending childbirth is going to have on what has been the central theme of her life, a hard-charging career, while he's a successful free-lance writer who works out of their home.
Armstrong, whose last series was the excellent but short-lived -- "All is Forgiven," is her usual skilled and likable self as Elizabeth, while Jay Thomas shows that his appeal as Carla's hockey-goalie husband on "Cheers" was no fluke.
Upstairs in the attic, a pair of teen-age newlyweds moves in. Allen is a freshman at Columbia and they decided to get married so Cindy could follow him east from their Midwest home instead of waiting for him to return. Played by Chris Young and Megan Gallivan, they are the most cliched and broadly sketched of the ** three couples.
The idea, of course, is to examine three different marriages in three different stages of life, each learning from and feeding off the other. The pilot centers around Cindy and Allen moving in and -- those crazy kids -- not being able to keep their hands off each other. Tucked in between are enough scenes to give you a peek at who these other people are.
As is the case with so many pilots, all the introductions make the half-hour crowded and messy. And, since it's already struggling under the weight of the silly stuff given to Cindy and Allen, it's got its problems. If "Married People" stays silly, a quick divorce might be recommended.
But there are enough good lines given to the other couples, particularly some spoken by Elizabeth and Russell, to let you know the potential is here for a funny, sophisticated comedy.