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They Throw a Mean Punch Line

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Once upon a time there were three little girls who went to the federal penitentiary. But a covert government program took them away from all that, and now they work for you and me.

Having flashbacks to “Charlie’s Angels,” that ‘70s show responsible for the Farrah haircut, the golden age of David Doyle and the ascendance of jiggle-vision? It’s no coincidence, because the campy comedy-action series “She Spies,” premiering tonight at 10 on NBC, seeks to evoke its predecessor and simultaneously poke fun at it.

Natasha Henstridge, Kristen Miller and Natashia Williams play a trio of career criminals whose ticket out of prison is to work as undercover agents.

Cassie (Henstridge) is a con artist extraordinaire; D.D. (Miller) is a naif but also a brilliant computer hacker; and Shane (Williams) is a thief and martial arts expert.

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Their “Bosley” is Jack (Carlos Jacott; with all the Natashas on the show, it’s a shame his name isn’t Boris), a government operative who hands out the assignments.

First up: protecting a former presidential candidate (“Spin City’s” Barry Bostwick) from assassination while he launches a career hosting a goofy talk show.

It’s no simple task, considering that this guy’s sleazoid behavior can give anyone immediate grounds for justifiable homicide.

Naturally, “She Spies” offers plenty of fight sequences, plot twists and the like, but that’s not really the point. Rather, the show is laden with jokes riffing on “Charlie’s Angels,” “Ally McBeal,” “V.I.P.,” the entertainment industry and even “She Spies” itself.

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It breaks the fourth wall, directly addressing viewers, as often as its tightly outfitted heroines deliver swift kicks to the bad guys’ groins.

Indeed, “She Spies” proves more entertaining than one might expect, given the unusual deal struck to get it on network television in the first place.

NBC signed up for only the first four episodes as a “sneak preview,” and the plan is to continue the show in first-run syndication come September.

As a lead-in to tonight’s premiere, NBC is airing “Species,” the 1995 science-fiction film that made model-turned-actress Henstridge famous.

In short, it would appear the network doesn’t have the greatest confidence in the show, and it’s easy to see why.

The makers of it could have focused a bit more on the quality of the humor than the quantity; for every joke that works, it seems as if there is one that tries too hard.

Yes, this trio’s looks can kill, but sometimes the lines simply wipe out.

Still, “She Spies” is one of those guilty pleasures like FX’s “Son of the Beach,” light summer fare that doesn’t take itself seriously, a fluff of jiggle TV with a niggling self-conscience.

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“She Spies” premieres tonight at 10 on NBC. The network has rated it TV-PG (may not be suitable for young children). The show will premiere in syndication the week of Sept. 16.


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