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'AMERICAIN' BEAUTY VALERIE BERTINELLI SERVES A LIGHT AND SWEET 'CAFE'

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Tired of suburban family sitcoms? Give cafe americain (NBC,Saturdays, 8:30-9 p.m.)-a show about an American woman in Paris-avisit. Valerie Bertinelli plays Holly Aldridge, recently arrived inFrance and employed as the assistant manager of the cozy CafeAmericain. Writer-creator Peter Noah (Anything but Love) has stuffedthis tiny restaurant with more oddball sitcom characters than iscomfortable; the best of them are Graham Beckel as a grumpy,xenophobic American businessman who would rather import Hostess SnoBalls from his native Ohio than eat a croissant, and Sofia Milos asthe ferociously self- absorbed Italian model Fabiana.Cafe hasn’t been helped in the ratings by its dreadful lead-in,The Mommies, nor by its popular CBS competition, Dr. Quinn. But thisis one of the few new series whose quality has steadily improvedsince its debut. Bertinelli has settled into a sort of controlleddither-her character is always in a sweat because she hasn’t learnedFrench-that is charming rather than annoying. So is herEnglish-mangling pal Marcel (Maurice Godin): ”Holly, you are sobright-eyed and mushy-tailed.” Besides, any show that persists inmaking amusing jokes about Sartre and Roland Barthes, knowing fullwell that most of its audience won’t know what the devil it’s talkingabout, deserves encouragement. B

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