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‘Perfect,’ ‘Luck’: Comedy Series, Science-Fiction Drama Shine

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The new television season keeps rolling along, with six series premiering over the next three nights.

The pick of the litter are tonight’s science-fiction drama “Strange Luck” on Fox and the CBS comedy “Almost Perfect,” which on Sunday joins the returning “Cybill” in filling the prized hour behind “60 Minutes,” long occupied by durable “Murder, She Wrote,” which is now moving to Thursdays.

An ideal companion for “The X-Files,” incoming “Strange Luck” gives Fox a two-hour block of highly intriguing otherworldliness. D.B. Sweeney plays the central character, Chance Tate, a free-lance photojournalist and relentless good Samaritan who finds himself inexplicably on the scene of bizarre occurrences.

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He says: “Things happen to me. Good. Bad. It doesn’t matter. I’m always there.” Tonight he’s there when a woman attempts suicide and when two police officers are gunned down after a curious freeway crash.

Why is he always there? No way does Chance know, but it surely has something to do with his childhood, when, we learn through flashbacks, he was the only member of his family to live through a plane crash. Or so he has thought all these years. But what is this about the possible survival of his younger brother? No wonder Chance stumbles through his first hour in a state of perpetual confusion.

Being baffled by the unknown is always fun. And the premiere of “Strange Luck” explores these mysterious links between past and present in an artful way that absorbs you in Chance’s search for his own identity, something that he will renew each week in a structure vaguely reminiscent of the former NBC series “Quantum Leap.”

Also absorbed by his quest are his photo editor/ex-girlfriend (Pamela Gidley) and a friendly waitress (Frances Fisher), as coming weeks will find Chance rescuing a woman from a fire, pursuing a killer and finding a suitcase full of money.

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CBS may cash in itself with “Almost Perfect,” one of those promising comedies that doesn’t initially set off any rockets but grows on you--practically second by second.

Credit much of that to series creators Robin Schiff, Ken Levine and David Isaacs, the latter two owning gaudy producing and writing credits that include “MASH,” “Cheers” and NBC’s present hit “Frasier.” And also to the appealing work of Nancy Travis, who effortlessly eases into her role as Kim Cooper, executive producer of the TV police drama “Blue Justice.”

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A peppery single woman hoping for a long-term relationship, Kim appears to have found what she’s looking for in Mike Ryan (Kevin Kilner), an assistant district attorney in charge of a homicide division. Why not? They’re both in police work.

Yet before getting that far, they first must survive an initial encounter involving a mistaken-identity blind date and a subsequent battle of beepers, when their heated foreplay is interrupted by calls on their respective pagers.

For some reason, TV is often least funny when trying to be funny about itself. But Kim’s brainstorming session with her “Blue Justice” writing colleagues punches some amusing satirical buttons en route to a promotion after the previous executive producer is bundled off to the Betty Ford Clinic.

Moreover, Travis and Kilner are very good together as the kind of urbanely witty and intelligent characters who surface all too rarely in sitcoms, characters whose sexual tensions are tantalizingly fired up almost immediately. It’s a nice start for a series with the potential to get better and better.

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Although network program strategies are sometimes obtusely intricate, it’s logical to assume that back-to-back “Cybill” and “Almost Perfect” on CBS essentially will be dueling the hit “Mad About You” and “Hope & Gloria,” comedies that NBC is deploying from 8-9 p.m. in hopes of aborting CBS’ eternal ratings dominance on Sunday nights. Just as the outcome of “Almost Perfect” vs. “Hope & Gloria” will be determined largely by the preceding “Cybill” vs. “Mad About You,” the outcome of this latter match-up will be influenced by the Nielsen performances of two new comedies that NBC has inserted ahead of “Mad About You.”

Uh-oh.

The first of these, “Brotherly Love,” is big on volume, low on comedy, starring brothers Joey, Matthew and Andy Lawrence as . . . brothers. Joey (formerly of “Blossom”) plays Joe, a half-brother who is the estranged oldest of the siblings. Matthew plays angry teen-ager Matthew. Andy plays the obnoxious youngest brother, Andrew.

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Why, if Matthew is Matthew in the series, Joey isn’t Joey instead of Joe and Andy isn’t Andy instead of Andrew is a mystery that viewers may find more compelling than the series.

In any event, Joe resurfaces one day with plans to gain some cash by selling his widowed stepmother (Melinda Culea) his share of the Philadelphia garage left to the family by his late father, a business that she has been running. The guys bicker. Joey fumes. Boy, will he be glad when he’s outta here.

But when the mother can’t come up with the money for the buyout, Joe is forced (by the script) to stay on as a mechanic.

“Brotherly Love” appears aimed at fairly young viewers. It remains to be seen just how many of them will remain loyal to a series that initially seeks to squeeze humor mostly from the grating hamminess of little Andrew, who makes Jim Carrey look as if he’s on Valium. Get him to the garage and pull his wires, fast.

Or hold him over for the mind mechanic in the next comedy.

That would be “Minor Adjustments,” a pleasant but unexciting half-hour in which stand-up comic Rondell Sheridan plays child psychologist Ron Aimes, whose success and easy way with youngsters at the office is not replicated by his parenting at home.

At least the Aimeses are bright, thoughtful people you would enjoy knowing. And there’s a dab of “The Bob Newhart Show”--that great CBS sitcom of the 1970s--in “Minor Adjustments.” For one thing, its first episode is directed by Peter Bonerz, who played the orthodontist who shared an office suite with Newhart’s put-upon psychologist, Bob Hartley. Even more significant, Ron’s volatile, eclectic work environment recalls the bizarre surroundings that Hartley had to cope with. That includes having an unflappable receptionist named Darby, with a Valley Girl dialect and dialogue tailored to getting laughs.

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Ron: “Darby, your office skills have to get better.”

Darby: “I hope so.”

Very nice. Unfortunately, “Minor Adjustments” collapses at home, where the kids are a little too cutesy and the humor too strained, when it exists at all. This is a better series than “Brotherly Love,” but nothing to really command your attention.

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Speaking of deep sitcom roots, meanwhile, there’s Betty White, without whom ABC’s “Maybe This Time” would be maybe dead. Even with her--as always, White’s effortless way with mildly risque gags is a primer on comic timing--its pulse is weak.

White plays the multi-widowed but still lusty Shirley, who runs a cafe with her divorced daughter, Julia (Marie Osmond), who has a daughter of her own in 12-year-old Gracie (Ashley Johnson). Julia is as stodgy as Shirley is outrageous and is horrified to see her mother dress up in sex-fantasy costumes and push around her body to get a favorable lease renewal from their dirty old coot of a landlord. Putting her foot down, Julia tries doing her own negotiating in a “proper, business-like manner.”

Actually, Shirley and Julia are a softer version of the sort of mother and daughter you see duking it out on daytime talk shows--”Daughters whose mothers embarrass them by dressing too sexily”--which at least capture your attention by being offensive.

“Maybe This Time” is offensively routine. Osmond doesn’t offer much, nor does the entire premiere beyond the skilled veteran White, who could get through this kind of sitcom in her sleep. Unfortunately, so could viewers.

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But the worst is yet to come, for bringing up the rear this weekend, chronologically and creatively, is the insipid two-hour premiere of “John Grisham’s The Client,” a CBS drama series about an underdog Atlanta attorney named Reggie Love. It’s based on Grisham’s bestseller “The Client,” which was made into a movie that earned Susan Sarandon an Oscar nomination as the recovering alcoholic Reggie.

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As TV’s gold-hearted Reggie, the capable JoBeth Williams is undermined by a script with plot holes wide enough to drive the Atlanta Braves and their families through. The plodding, convoluted, unnavigable story has her resourceful 11-year-old client--the court has made her his legal guardian--gaining possession of $1 million in stolen loot, putting both of them in conflict with some murderous types.

Williams is not the only able performer to get whacked by this premiere. Ossie Davis reprises his movie role as Judge Harry Roosevelt, Polly Holliday is Reggie’s momma and a dazed-looking John Heard checks in as the local district attorney, looking as if he got lost on the way to Miami.

“The Client” establishes its own artificially incestuous universe in which--to make things appear to fit--everyone just happens to be connected to everyone else. Other components are raggedly seamed together, leaving inexplicable gaps.

As drama, “The Client” is clueless. Although it’s meant to be suspenseful, and bodies do mount, no one who really matters seems to be in jeopardy.

Except viewers.

* “Strange Luck” premieres at 8 tonight on Fox (Channel 11). “Maybe This Time” premieres at 9:30 tonight on ABC (Channels 7, 3 and 42) and then will be seen Saturdays at 8:30 p.m. “Brotherly Love” premieres Saturday at 9 p.m., followed by “Minor Adjustments” at 9:30 p.m. on NBC (Channels 4 and 36). They will normally be seen 7-8 p.m. Sundays on NBC. “Almost Perfect” premieres Sunday at 8:30 p.m., followed by “John Grisham’s The Client” at 9 p.m. on CBS (Channel 2). “The Client” will be seen thereafter on Tuesdays at 8 p.m.

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