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Conventional ‘Ellie’ can’t compare to ‘Seinfeld’s’ Elaine

Times Staff Writer

Today, there are two inevitabilities: taxes, and comparisons between “Watching Ellie” and “Seinfeld.”

Yet there’s really no point in beating a dead horse. Nor is there some great “Seinfeld” curse at work here. After all, “Watching Ellie,” starring Julia Louis-Dreyfus, returns to NBC at 9:30 tonight on NBC, having survived a short, mixed-review and ratings-poor first season.

In fact, it almost seems as if the network has gone out of its way to give “Ellie” another shot, albeit in a highly retooled version. The very thing that some people liked about the show last season -- that it was different from the standard sitcom format -- is gone. The show no longer plays out in real time, nor is there an on-screen clock counting down the minutes. Instead of being filmed drama-style with a single camera, the traditional three-camera sitcom approach is used. And there’s a live studio audience (read: laugh track), where once there was none.

The undeniably talented Louis-Dreyfus still plays Elaine ... er, Ellie, a vivacious jazz singer with an attitude who haunts Los Angeles clubs with a band that includes her on-again, off-again boyfriend Ben (Darren Boyd). Mixing things up is Steve Carell of Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show,” who plays her ex-boyfriend Edgar to hilarious effect.

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Tonight’s season premiere, simply titled “Shrink,” finds Ellie wrestling with jealousy issues on a therapist’s couch. Of course, she tells her story through a series of flashbacks, a technique so ancient that even the Sumerians would have used it if they’d had TV.

Though executive producer-writer Brad Hall, who is Louis-Dreyfus’ husband, doesn’t seem wed to the flashback format for subsequent episodes, its use tonight underscores how conventional the show has become.

Will such conventionality allow Louis-Dreyfus and company to show their stuff, or will it drag them down? Only time will tell.


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