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TV REVIEWS : SURRENDERING TO A DUET OF SITCOMS

Times Television Critic

Two more comedies arrive this weekend, both sharing a certain sweetness, but otherwise unalike.

The essentials for NBC’s short-term “Sweet Surrender” (8:30 tonight on Channels 4, 36 and 39) read like an extended cliche: Attractive young couple live in attractive home and try to cope with two young kids under the gaze of wise-cracking in-laws.

Fortunately, though, the premiere of “Sweet Surrender” does not surrender to the mundane. Written by series creators Deidre Fay and Stuart Wolpert, it has a puckish sense of humor and that rare quality of being effortlessly witty.

Mark Blum and Dana Delany are appealing as Ken and Georgia Holden, parents of a toddler and 5-year-old son, Bart (Edan Gross), who subverts their plans for a big night out on their seventh anniversary. It’s clear that Ken and Georgia are bogging down in domesticity--and essentially liking it.

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David Doyle plays Georgia’s single father and Marjorie Lord Ken’s single mother, and Viveka Davis has a funny turn as the Holden’s teen-age--with a capital “T"--baby sitter.

There is one sequence in the opener that parents of small children will especially relate to, when Ken and Georgia find themselves relishing a rare moment of liberation from their kids. “Wait a minute, wait a minute, something’s wrong here,” Ken says. “We’re alone.” A promising start.

On the other hand, the first two episodes of the Fox network’s “Duet,” at 9 and 9:30 p.m. Sunday on Channels 11 and 6, have an engagingly off-beat tone, but are short on laughs.

The cast and characters are likable enough, with Matthew Laurance as struggling detective novelist Ben Coleman and Mary Page Keller as caterer Laura Kelly. Yes, another one of those detective novelist-meets-caterer stories.

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The meeting takes place at a wedding that Laura is catering for her former boyfriend. Meanwhile, Laura’s strange sister, Jane (Jodi Thelen), is, well, strange. And Chris Lemmon and Alison LaPlaca play Ben’s bickering friends.

Episodic comedies are notorious for their lack of memory. Co-created by Ruth Bennett and Susan Seeger, “Duet” is unusual in that it approaches comedy almost as a serial, with episodes following chronologically. That is nice. And so is the show’s attempt to draw humor from situations instead of the usual cheap one-liners. Nice, but not funny.


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