The title character in "Kevin Hill" (8 p.m. Wednesday on WPWR-Ch. 50) is something of a Jerry Maguire, a hotshot lawyer finessing deals for rock stars and, in his private life, a suave, New York City lady-killer.
His sex life is a string of one-night stands, albeit with classy women, even one movie actress. He rarely calls back after the first date, as heartless in the bedroom as he is in boardroom negotiations. He's 28, materialistic and hedonistic.
But into his flashy life enters a new girl, and girl is the operative word. She's a 10-month-old baby named Sarah, whom Hill inherits after the death of his unmarried cousin. There's no one else in the family as well-equipped financially to care for her. Or as emotionally unprepared.
This premise, an update of such television standards as "Bachelor Father" and "Family Affair," ought to be gooey and predictable. Instead, a host of surprise ingredients make "Kevin Hill" not only one of the best new shows of the season but also enable a comedy/drama with refreshing ease and headline topicality.
A major plus is Taye Diggs as Hill, the veteran co-star ("Chicago" and "Ally McBeal") now ready for his own prime-time shot. He is funny, sexy and endearing, as well as a rare African-American leading a new show in this not very diverse fall season. He is also the perfect foil for the characters surrounding him, including his nanny, a biting, sarcastic gay man named George (Patrick Breen), whom Hill mistakes for a practical joke sent by his buddies when he first shows up at the door.
Later, Hill tries to make amends: "I TiVo-ed all these gay shows on Bravo for you," he tells George condescendingly his first day on the job. The odd-couple paradigm is in high gear here: "You don't need a baby-sitter," George laments. "You need a wife."
Hill's new domestic complications soon interfere with the demands of his high-profile law firm, so he goes to work for a smaller concern run and staffed by women. Callous bachelor Hill now finds himself an advocate for women's rights and working with a feisty feminist trio: Jessie (Michael Michele), a determined single mother and the firm's headstrong founder; Veronica (Kate Levering), a tough, attractive blond and one of Hill's former flames; and Nicolette (Christina Hendricks), a space cadet but arguably a smarter attorney than Hill.
His first outing is a thinly veiled allusion to the Kobe Bryant case, that of a woman assaulted by her date, a popular baseball star. Hill finds the tables profoundly turned: In his summation, Hill, the serial seducer, argues passionately for the protection of women and pleads with the jury, "It could be your wife, your daughter" or, for that matter now, his.
Those courtroom theatrics balance nicely with the series' domestic laughs, and the show is thus set up to tackle a wide range of hot topics involving race, gender and parenting. Even better,
"Kevin Hill" apparently aims to do so with charm, invention, humor and insight.