Opposites really don't attract

Preview: The chemical imbalance of stars Kevin Pollak and Nancy Travis works against `Work With Me'

Fall television

September 29, 1999|By David Zurawik | David Zurawik,SUN TELEVISION CRITIC

Not since Sam Donaldson and Diane Sawyer were forced to share an anchor desk for the debut of "PrimeTime Live" have I seen chemistry as awful as that of Nancy Travis and Kevin Pollak in the new CBS sitcom "Work With Me."

I kept wondering who would be crazy enough to stick with the casting after they saw the two actors on screen together, and then I found out the co-executive producers were Travis, Pollak, and Pollak's wife, Lucy Webb. Why do I think a more impartial group of producers might have seen things more clearly?

Not that the concept from creator Stephen Engel gave them much to work with: Two lawyers who are married wind up working together in the wife's practice after he is passed over for promotion at his Wall Street firm. And -- isn't this a scream? -- their personal assistants are dating each other, too.

What is this now, the 10,000th new CBS series featuring a female attorney? OK, with "Judging Amy" and "Family Law," it is only the third. But that's a lot.

I wonder if CBS would have so many if Nancy Tellem, the president of CBS Entertainment, weren't herself an attorney. And isn't this just "Family Law" in reverse? Instead of the hubby-lawyer leaving the wife and starting his own firm, this hubby-lawyer comes to work with the wife in her firm. Who says network television is out of ideas?

The jokes are supposed to come from Pollak's character, Jordan Better, being a Type-A corporate lawyer and his wife, Julie, being a more laid-back attorney who represents underdogs in her own unorthodox way.

But Pollak and Travis nearly turn this around: She's playing the same nervous, edgy, almost ditsy, feel-the-mania type she did in "Almost Perfect," while he's doing the steady, it-will-be-all-rightnik he did in "Avalon."

Because the series follows "Cosby," it might stay afloat. After all, there's not much else for an adult to watch at this time, what with "Beverly Hills, 90210," "Norm," "Dawson's Creek," "7 Days" and "Dateline NBC."

But I wouldn't count on it, unless -- as ABC News did to save "PrimeTime Live" -- they split the firm and move Jordan to Washington and keep Julie in New York.

`Popular'

There are two beautiful high school girls (both of whom look to be in their 20s) who hate each other. One is a leader of "The Populars," the other is leader of "The Alternatives."

Just as they are about to start throwing punches at each other at a big poolside party, they find out that their single parents have been dating each other, and it looks as if the two girls might become stepsisters.

That's the premise of WB's "Popular," the worst new high school show I can remember seeing in a while. I am not sure which of the leads I find less interesting -- Sam (Carly Pope), a wannabe journalist who mainly wants to sleep with her journalism teacher (Chad Lowe), or Brooke (Leslie Bibb), the cover-girl-perfect-looking cheerleader with the eating disorder.

There is one moment in the two-hour pilot that does work. It features Sara Rue as an overweight girl denied a spot on the cheerleading team because of her size. The feelings she expresses are powerful and moving. But her speech lasts only about a minute and, in the end, mainly serves to remind you how empty-headed, whiny and overly sexualized the rest of the pilot is.

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