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Published: Sunday, 1/22/2006

Wisp of a sitcom is still delightful


Dharma has become Greg.

That's an easy shorthand description of CBS's Courting Alex, a new romantic comedy starring Jenna Elfman, the hippie heart of the long-running sitcom Dharma & Greg.

But in Courting Alex, she plays a Greg-like lawyer. Elfman's Alex is rigid and lacks a spontaneous sense of adventure. While on a date at a classy Manhattan restaurant, she answers her cell phone and conducts business as her date grows bored.

Alex never eats dinner at home, except for take-out, and works long hours as a lawyer in the firm founded by her father (Dabney Coleman, still playing a lawyer as he did on The Guardian).

Alex faces a challenge when she has to convince a bar owner to sell his property so one of the firm's longtime clients can get started on a new development. But she's stymied for words when she meets tavern owner Scott (Josh Randall, Ed). He's a former smoke jumper who fought forest fires, and he rides a motorcycle. Alex can't resist, even though she wants to.

The acting talent here is marginal compared to the sitcom it replaces, Out of Practice (returning later in the season), but I found Courting Alex more enjoyable. It's an entirely disposable wisp of a sitcom, but Elfman is engaging in a different way from what she was on Dharma, and Randall puts his nice guy charm to good use.

The premiere episode has an open-ended conclusion (it feels like a movie ending more than a sitcom kicker), so where Courting Alex will go is not entirely certain, but it is pretty predictable that, given the history of TV sitcoms, Alex is likely to hem and haw about whether she should choose Scott or her career, and somehow she'll find a way to balance both. It's cute, but the premise is slight and may not be enough upon which to build a long-running series.

CBS is developing an American edition of Game Show Marathon, a successful British show where celebrities compete in a different classic game show every week. The Price Is Right, Match Game, and Beat the Clock are among the shows being considered for inclusion in Marathon.

The Block News Alliance consists of The Blade and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Rob Owen, the TV editor for the Post-Gazette, is attending the Television Critics Association winter press tour in Los Angeles.

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