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Some Good, Some Trash and Some Awfully Beautiful People

A couple of swell new comedy series are tonight’s gift to the fall season from ABC. And CBS delivers a delectably trashy hour about frolicking Barbies and Kens in New York, followed by a legal drama so insipid that it deserves to be held in contempt.

Stand-up comics continue to be the locust swarms of prime time, making their distinctive sounds and imprinting their one-liner philosophy of humor on sitcom after sitcom.

Thus comes “The Drew Carey Show,” named for its pudgy, burr-headed star, who plays the assistant personnel director at a Cleveland department store, where tonight his boss presses him to hire someone for the cosmetics counter.

On the home front, Drew coexists with two friends (Diedrich Bader and Ryan Stiles). They shoot the breeze at breakfast and shoot pool on an outdoor table covered with leaves.

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Much funnier is Drew’s riotous clash at the office with a shrewishly hostile job applicant (played to the hilarious hilt by Kathy Kinney), who renews her loud attack on him that evening at a bar. You’ll be cheering when the cosmetics job goes to another of Drew’s friends (Christa Miller).

In that it features goofy white bachelors and their obligatory token female pal--all of whom idle away their evenings in a local gathering spot--"The Drew Carey Show” is just one more brick in an expanding wall of singles comedies. What distinguishes the premiere, though, is its tart writing and the qualities of its cast--particularly Carey’s intelligence, his offbeat, sardonic delivery, his straight-faced responses to the outrageous behavior of others and his kinship with material that is largely an extension of his stand-up act (he and executive producer Bruce Helford wrote the script).

Whether he can stretch beyond his stand-up work and move to another level, as have such comics-turned-sitcom-stars as Jerry Seinfeld, Brett Butler and Roseanne, remains to be seen.

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Talented Tea Leoni’s level is stratospheric in “The Naked Truth,” a comedy that rides high on the lowly tactics of the Comet, a tabloid rag crammed with baloney and other specious material intended to make celebrities look as bad as possible.

The angular Leoni, whose legs seem to start at her chin, has great gifts as a physical comic, but she can do just as much with a good line, especially one that’s self-mocking. She plays Nora Wilde, a serious photographer rendered penniless after divorce from her rich husband and forced to join the ranks of the paparazzi despite vowing never to sink that low. Her cynical boss at the Comet is played by Holland Taylor.

At a bar, Nora meets a fellow media predator nicknamed Stupid Dave. “I bet there’s a funny story behind that name,” she says. “Uh huh,” he replies. “I’m stupid.”

This series is anything but stupid. Nora is given a trial assignment to trample over the privacy of statuesque Anna Nicole Smith at her gynecologist’s office, and after a gloriously funny encounter in which she virtually accosts Smith in an examining room, she returns to the office triumphant, with the compulsory embarrassing pictures and her subject’s urine sample. What a fiendishly good start for “The Naked Truth.”

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That complicates things, for the new CBS series opposite ABC’s “The Naked Truth” and “Grace Under Fire” is a lovable howl in its own right, although a vastly different one.

If you don’t respond to Carrie Fairchild (Madchen Amick), check your pulse. She’s the scheming little vixen whose antics set the tone for the premiere of “Central Park West,” a masterpiece of rubbish from “Melrose Place” and “Beverly Hills, 90210" creator Darren Star.

Is this fun or what? Star’s New York has no crime, grime or homeless. No traffic gridlock or homely faces, either. But he does locate bushels of corn in a universe of romantic lighting, clinking glasses and disco beats, where beautiful people mingle effortlessly and arrogantly, as if being vacuous were a birthright.

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The seductive Carrie’s great-looking mother (Lauren Hutton) is married to a ruthless, ruggedly appealing magazine publisher (Ron Liebman), who despises Carrie, who despises him and anyone who crosses her, including swell-looking Stephanie Wells (Mariel Hemingway), the magazine’s new, no-nonsense editor who despises columnist Carrie’s earning "$200,000 a year for a few poorly written column inches.”

In no time at all, vindictive Carrie is coming on to Stephanie’s writer husband, handsome Mark Merrill (Tom Verica), who despises having a sex scandal in his teaching past, but what can he do?

Meanwhile, Carrie’s marvelous-looking brother, Peter (John Barrowman), is a star attorney in the district attorney’s office who despises single-breasted suits. Devastatingly hunky Gil Chase (Justin Lazard) is a young stockbroker who loves manipulating women as much as he despises integrity. Gil is confronted at the office by a ravishing client whose money he lost. “On top of that,” she bristles, “you’re dumping me. What kind of scum are you?”

The worst kind. Why else would he be in this series, which also introduces ravishing gallery owner Nikki Sheridan (Michael Michele), who appears to despise no one, which accounts for her relative obscurity.

“Central Park West” is never better than when magnificent-looking Alex Bartoli (Melissa Errico), who despises believable dialogue, tells Peter she works at a cosmetics counter, and he says, “I guess that explains why you have such soft skin.” And she says, “Stop by some day. I have just the thing for those dry lips.”

Or when everyone gathers in Central Park for a beautiful-people softball game, at which some guy says, “All right, gorgeous, you’re up.” He’ll have to be more specific than that. In this series--tailored to those who adore malarkey as much as they despise realism--everyone is gorgeous.

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“Courthouse” also banners hunks and babes, but unlike its lead-in, “Central Park West,” appears to take itself very seriously.

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It’s especially dim compared to its durable 10 p.m. opposition, “Law & Order,” NBC’s fine legal drama that entertains without pandering. Yet pandering heads the agenda of “Courthouse,” which opens with an elderly judge and his convicted murderer being gunned down in court, then spends the rest of the hour shooting itself in the foot.

Investigating the incident, Supervising Judge Justine Parkes (Patricia Wettig) learns that the slain judge was fiendishly sexual, and that his replacement, handsome young do-gooder Wyatt Earp Jackson (Brad Johnson) of Montana, is a big palooka to keep an eye on. This Wyatt doesn’t ride a horse, he is one. And while he and Parkes do clash over law, you just know they’ll ultimately collaborate on a primal level.

As have dedicated public defender Veronica Gilbert (Nia Peeples) and a young assistant district attorney. As have young prosecutor Edison Moore (Jeffrey D. Sams) and D.A.'s investigator Suzanne Graham (Robin Givens). Originally cast as the more visible public defender, Givens is now merely a footnote in the premiere except for lingering shots of her backside in a gratuitous sex scene.

But there’s much more to “Courthouse” than flesh. There’s fleshy storytelling. There’s sensitive, fragile young attorney Lenore Laderman (Annabeth Gish) overcoming her revulsion just long enough to magically wheedle a confession from a sex offender after the cops had failed. There’s Gilbert crying on the courthouse steps in a pouring rain after marching into court and blistering Judge Sterling Conklin (Bob Gunton) for his rancor toward a young welfare mother who stole to feed her hungry kids. There’s Juvenile Court Judge Rosetta Reide (Jenifer Lewis) juggling her career and personal life.

Moreover, there are gaping script holes and another convenient confession that resolves the shootings in this show that plays as if it were hurriedly puttied together from odd scraps. This “Courthouse” needs reform.


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