'Brian' Breezy, Bittersweet and Harmless


As if to underscore the uncertainty of our TV era, ABC is introducing a new series with a question for its title, enigmatically shorn of its question mark.

"What About Brian," premiering at Sunday and moving to Monday, is about a handsome, mildly timid and quizzical young bachelor (Barry Watson) and his handful of married friends in Los Angeles. At their cozy brunches on patios overlooking the L.A. basin, he's the odd man out. His sister, Nic (Rosanna Arquette) and her husband, Angelo (Raoul Bova), are expecting their first child. Deena (Amanda Detmer) and Dave (Rick Gomez), Brian's partner in a video game business, are considering an open relationship after 13 years of marriage. And Brian's best friend, Adam (Matthew Davis), is about to propose to Marjorie (Sarah Lancaster), a woman that the supposedly confirmed bachelor Brian loves from afar.

Got all that? You don't really need it. "Brian" is easy, harmless viewing, sliding down the gullet as smoothly and reassuring as a glass of California merlot. "Thirtysomething" (Brian is 34) meets "Melrose Place" and even a hint of "Friends" in this breezy, bittersweet, infectious one-hour comedy-drama. It doesn't have the driving comic intensity of CBS' unfortunately short-lived "Love Monkey" or the promising character and plot complexities of ABC's "Grey's Anatomy," whose time slot this premiere pre-empts.

The setup is as old as the 1960s Stephen Sondheim musical "Company," about people with troubled marriages intent on foisting the institution on a sole surviving single. Brian's secret, and the show's twist, is that he'd love to get hitched, if only he could figure out a way to snatch his best friend's girl. Sunday's episode sets up that very possibility when Adam, in a somewhat ridiculous plotline, offers to break up with Marjorie if Brian will break up with his latest, a loud-mouthed, hot-tempered woman Brian met when he rear-ended her car in L.A. traffic.

Brian's a passive lover falling in with anyone nearby. Adam reminds him that that has been his pattern since 5th grade, when he wooed a girl he didn't care for that much. The path of least romantic resistance.

"What About Brian" offers a similar choice for viewers, passing the time amiably while nowhere near true love.

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