David Frankel, the writer-director-producer who gave us the genially goofy Doctor, Doctor (1989-91), has created a completely fresh sitcom style for Grapevine: Funny stories of romance, sex, and friendship are regularly interrupted by the characters involved, who look straight into the camera and comment on the action, filling us in on their thoughts and hopes and fears.
The show’s three main characters are young, upwardly mobile professionals from Miami’s South Beach, identified by their first names: David, a restaurant owner played by Jonathan Penner; his girlfriend, Susan, a cruise-line executive played by Lynn Clark; and his brother, Thumper, a television sportscaster played by Steven Eckholdt. In the series’ debut episode, ”The Janice and Brian Story,” our trio tells us about Janice (Mariska Hargitay), who recently lost a lot of weight and now has tons of guys coming on to her (the plots in Grapevine are as narrow as Janice’s new waist). The guys include her weasel ex-boss, who used to belittle her (he’s played by Stan Ivar) as well as Brian (Dean Cain), a mechanic who feels unworthy of a woman this beautiful but pursues her anyway. David, Susan, and Thumper tell the tale, while Janice and Brian regularly gaze into our eyes to tell us how they feel about their on-again, off-again relationship.
I know, it sounds confusing and a little coy. But creator Frankel, who has written all the scripts for this six-episode summer series, has crafted such wonderfully intricate dialogue that it’s like watching a first-rate play come together on screen. I also have one major reservation: The show’s three main characters are utterly shallow people, slick schmoozers I’d hate to be trapped next to at a party. But they sure can talk. B+