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TV REVIEWS : ‘Platypus,’ ‘Pig Sty’ Mine Familiar Turf

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Executives at the new United Paramount Network announced last week that they intend to attract talent by giving them the creative freedom to do whatever they want. Two sitcoms premiering tonight suggest that what said talent wants to do is the same old thing.

“Platypus Man,” airing at 9 p.m., is not about some hideously mutated super-hero--that might actually be mildly original. Instead, this cribs from “Seinfeld” and its clones, David Letterman, “Cheers” and “Dream On,” apparently for those who don’t have time to watch all of their favorites individually.

Richard Jeni, a talented stand-up comic, stars as himself, the host of a tongue-in-cheek cooking program. He has a stud brother (David Dundara) who owns a bar (think Sam of “Cheers”), a schleppy married buddy (Ron Orbach) who works on the show (think George of “Seinfeld” crossed with Norm of “Cheers”) and a wisecracking neighbor (Denise Miller) who’s unlucky at love (think--oh, just think of virtually every sitcom character).

Richard himself is fabulously successful at attracting women; pathetic at holding on to them. In two episodes made available for preview, the scriptwriters indulge in some fatuous plot gymnastics to wrest women from his arms.

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Jeni will be good fun when he settles down a bit, but his supporting cast is drearily familiar. Both episodes have a couple of solid laughs, but Jeni needs to flex his own creative muscle and quit relying on such deadeningly formulaic scenarios.

Also derivative, at 9:30 p.m., is “Pig Sty,” basically an “Odd Quintet” from former “Cheers” executive producers Dan Staley and Rob Long. Premise: Cram five guys with varying degrees of wackiness into one New York apartment, stand back and watch the zany high jinks ensue.

David Arnott as the utterly amoral Cal, the most swinish of “Pig Sty,” is also the most clever, even selling some of his most unfunny lines. Timothy Fall shows a lot of potential as P.J., a dysfunctional trust-fund couch potato and breathtakingly inept songwriter.

The rest of the cast, however, is strictly Genericville. Brian McNamara stars as Randy, a writer wanna-be and ostensible regular guy. Matt Borlenghi plays Johnny, a moody attorney. Sean O’Bryan is “Iowa,” a doctor whose sole character trait--he’s a bumpkin from Iowa!--will no doubt endear this series to viewers in the great Midwest. Liz Vassey rounds out the group as Tess, the building super whose smart mouth wards off, alas, frequent comments about her ample anatomy.

In three episodes made available for preview, a line here and a situation there clicked; the show’s light touch and overall polish make it watchable. Sharper writing could make it worthwhile viewing. But already, there was a gaffe: Due to space limitations, one character had to bunk in a walk-in closet in tonight’s pilot, while a future episode refers to a “spare bedroom.” If the writers can’t bother to pay much attention to their show, how can they expect us to?

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“Platypus Man” airs tonight at 9 p.m. on UPN (Channel 13). “Pig Sty” follows at 9:30 p.m.


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