Congratulations, it's a girl - and a classier UPN

`Kevin Hill' traces journey to fatherhood

Fall TV

September 29, 2004|By David Zurawik | David Zurawik,SUN TELEVISION CRITIC

In a TV universe of overweight, idiot, beer-swilling dads and rude, oversexed, young single men, the arrival tonight of Kevin Hill (Taye Diggs) in a new UPN drama of the same name is indeed a blessed event.

Hill is a high-powered entertainment attorney and ladies' man who, when his cousin unexpectedly dies, suddenly finds himself caring for an infant girl. Diggs' smooth and winning performance reinvigorates the well-worn premise, while his physical grace adds a welcome dimension to the ham-fisted, knucklehead portrayals of masculinity that dominate prime-time TV (Think Kevin James as Doug Heffernan in The King of Queens).

Tonight's pilot (9 p.m. WUTB, Channel 24) is all about Hill's adjustment to life as a 28-year-old single parent. He loses his job at a Manhattan firm, and then finds another at a much-smaller, all-female operation.

A half-dozen gorgeous women tell him to "lose" their phone numbers once they find out he has an infant at home, but he stumbles upon the possibility of romance with an even more strikingly beautiful actress who comes knocking on his apartment door. Hill's biggest discovery, though, is the sense of responsibility he feels and finally responds to with a series of mature, adult, life-altering decisions once he brings a baby named Sarah into his life.

Such an enlightened story arc might be more than anyone would ever expect from a network built on the back of wrestling (WWE Smackdown!) - with a lineup that last fall brought us The Mullets, a sitcom based on the haircuts on the two head-banging male leads. But, along with the new Tuesday night series Veronica Mars, Kevin Hill shows how exponentially UPN has grown in terms of drama the past 12 months.

Not only does the drama offer its primarily young (18- to 34- year-old) audience a responsible depiction of what it means to be a man in the character of Hill, it goes even further to explore multiple notions of masculinity side by side by side. Hill hires a male nanny, George (Patrick Breen), to help care for Sarah. George, who is gay, has the most to teach Hill about being a grown-up and responsible father. Hill's best friend, Dame (Jon Seda), meanwhile, remains a player with the ladies and a hot-shot attorney with the prestigious law firm that fired Hill. Dame is what Hill would have been had Sarah not come into his life.

In the workplace, there are three depictions of femininity. Jessie Grey (Michael Michele), who runs the firm, is also a single parent, but she seems a little more in control of her multiple tasks than does Hill. Nicolette Ray (Christina Hendricks) is all modesty and self-effacement, but she's the super brainy one who can kill in court. Veronica Carter (Kate Levering), who had a one-night fling with Hill a while back, appears to be the member of the firm with the most growing up to do. (Local fans of the late NBC drama Homicide: Life on the Street, might remember Seda and Michele from that series.)

Kevin Hill ends tonight with Sarah peacefully asleep on Hill's chest as he lies on the couch using the remote to try to find a New York Knicks' basketball game on TV. He's reaching out with that electronic device in an attempt to reconnect at arm's length with the male world of the NBA - a realm he seemed perfectly at home in at the start of the hour.

But at the center of his universe now, between him and the screen, is Sarah. It's an expertly distilled image of the inner tension and forces that Hill is trying to bring into balance in his new life. That effort promises to make for one of the more rewarding character journeys of the new fall season.

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