It will be love at first sight for this well-written sitcom Preview: ABC's 'Dharma and Greg' will charm the socks off you.

New TV season

September 24, 1997|By Chris Kaltenbach | Chris Kaltenbach,SUN STAFF

It takes just an instant for Dharma and Greg to fall in love with each other.

It may take viewers a little longer. But not much.

"Dharma and Greg," ABC's new romantic comedy of mismatched partners, starts off innocently enough -- two youngsters locking eyes on a San Francisco subway platform in 1977. Dharma is with her hippie parents, Greg with his uptight, blue-blood mom and dad. They couldn't be more different, yet you get the feeling fate will bring these two together.

Yeah, OK, fate and some writers who aren't above a cute plot contrivance or two. Get used to it.

Fast-forward 20 years. Same subway, same platform, same principals. Only this time, Dharma (Jenna Elfman) and Greg (Thomas Gibson) are by themselves, devoid of adult supervision. Greg's a lawyer, dressed to the nines, but with a wry grin that suggests he's a lot more comfortable outside the courtroom. Dharma's a long, lean beauty with a wardrobe that's anything but button-down.

Their eyes lock again. They prepare to move past each other. But then Dharma shoots Greg this elfin grin that's so goofily seductive well, what's a guy to do?

In Greg's case, the first thing he does is wish he'd gotten off the darn train and followed her. But this is sitcom land, after all, and it isn't long before they meet again. And not long after that, they're in Reno eating blueberry pie and getting married.

You can probably guess much of the rest. Greg's parents are horrified their son has married a woman who trains dogs during the day and teaches yoga at night. Dharma's parents embrace their new son-in-law, but you just know there'll be plenty of friction as this relationship progresses.

If all this sounds like the cutest thing you've ever heard, it just may be. And yet, somehow, "Dharma and Greg" pulls it off, thanks largely to the considerable charm of Elfman, a cross between Lisa Kudrow and Drew Barrymore.

Like Kudrow (Phoebe on "Friends"), Elfman's Dharma is relentlessly -- and guilelessly -- honest; she's incapable of hiding a thought. But there's also a layer of danger, a mischievous twinkle that's usually just below the surface.

Like Barrymore, Dharma probably wouldn't think twice about flashing David Letterman. Also like Barrymore, she could get away with it.

Gibson, late of "Chicago Hope," provides a sort of calming influence without being a wet blanket. He may act horrified at Dharma's shenanigans, but he never overplays his uptightness. You know that he loves every minute of it and that he loves her.

Which is a very good thing. The show's writers are smart enough to make both characters sympathetic; neither comes off as a parody of the sliver of humanity they represent. Despite their differences, their mutual attraction is perfectly believable.

In supporting roles, old pros Susan Sullivan ("Falcon Crest") and Alan Rachins ("L.A. Law") do yeoman turns as, respectively, Greg's mom and Dharma's dad.

But make no mistake, the star of "Dharma and Greg" is Elfman, who first attracted attention as Molly Ringwald's sex-obsessed friend in "Townies," a sitcom that otherwise made nary a ripple last season. She's better served this time around, by a brisk script (a few jokes fall flat, but hey, it ain't art), talented co-stars and a character that challenges the world not to like her.

On a network desperate for success of any kind, "Dharma and Greg" could prove a real winner. It's miles better than its CBS competition, "Murphy Brown," whose best days are a good half-decade behind her. And nobody on NBC's competing "Built To Last" could outcharm Elfman in a fair fight.

Series premiere

What: "Dharma and Greg"

Where: ABC (WMAR, Channel 2)

When: 8: 30 p.m.-9 p.m.

Pub Date: 9/24/97

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