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‘Christine’ creates a life beyond Elaine

Times Staff Writer

Coming up on its second week and third episode tonight at 9:30 is “The New Adventures of Old Christine,” the latest vehicle for Julia Louis-Dreyfus, who will -- lest some extremely unlikely bigger hit eclipse it -- always be “formerly of ‘Seinfeld.’ ” (That show, which airs locally twice nightly, six nights a week, on KCOP, is not going away any time soon, while “Watching Ellie,” the actress’ previous stab at a solo sitcom, has already disappeared under its massive historical shadow.) And while some of Louis-Dreyfus’ best moments in her new series have something of the hair-trigger intensity that made up Elaine Benes, she has quickly inhabited her new, more self-reflective self.

Here Louis-Dreyfus plays a single mother of indeterminate middle age -- clearly younger than her actual age, 45, perhaps so as not to alienate that 18-to-34 demo -- who, two years after her divorce, is looking at a return to the world of love and sex. More to the point, she just wants to feel good about herself again.

Without bringing anything radically new to the annals of sitcomedy, Louis-Dreyfus makes Christine feel fresh and real. She’s vulnerable and goofy, with a habit of saying too much, as when, advised that “the Whole Foods on Fairfax” is the place to meet men (the “Ralphs on Pico” being over), she approaches a strange man and announces in a single breathless sentence: “Hi, my name is Christine Campbell, I’m divorced, but I get along great with my ex-husband, we’re just better as friends, anyway I’m not crazy, I’m very stable, in fact I own my own gym, it’s one of those 30-minute workout places for women, I make decent money, though, but most of it goes to my son’s private school, but I’m not a snob, I’m very down to Earth, I just want what’s best for my son, his name is Richie, we live in Mar Vista.” By which time the air has run out of her as from a balloon. “Excuse me,” she says, scurrying off with her cart.

Above-noted ex-husband Richard (Clark Gregg) -- with whom she has an 8-year-old son, almost named Richard, perhaps just so he can be called “Little Richard” -- has started dating a younger woman, also named Christine (Emily Rutherford). Which is what makes Louis-Drefyus “old Christine” and triggers her sudden need to date.

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Created by actress-writer Kari Lizer (whose behind-the-camera credits include “Will & Grace” and “Maggie Winters”), the show has a dry charm and a nice tone of affectionate irony. (Christine: “The best thing I can say about you is that you are a fantastic ex-husband.” Richard: “Baby, you’ve got to let me go.”) While it occasionally runs to the absurd -- a blind date who won’t eat food other people have touched and brings his own chicken to a restaurant -- it stays for the most part within the realm of recognizable human relations, and lets you feel something for its characters. This was not a luxury “Seinfeld” ever afforded anyone, and it’s nice to see the star getting to play something less cerebrally conceived, less obsessive-compulsive and more ordinarily well-rounded.

Louis-Dreyfus is an exceptionally musical actress -- her accelerations and decelerations and changes in pitch are funny in themselves -- and is supported here by an able cast that includes Hamish Linklater as her slackerish younger brother and roommate; Tricia O’Kelley and Alex Kapp Horner as catty mothers at her son’s school; and Amy Farrington as a gym employee. The production also benefits from some canny guest shots -- Andy Richter (as the man she does take home from the market, because he compliments her hair) and Wanda Sykes as a matchmaking friend.

This is a thoroughly well-made, traditional sitcom that, given its position in a high-performing block of CBS traditional sitcoms, may just be well-protected enough to thrive.

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‘The New Adventures of Old Christine’

Where: CBS

When: 9:30 tonight

Ratings: TV-PG-D (may be unsuitable for young children, with an advisory for suggestive language)


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