It would be unfortunate if the current glut of sophisticated and would-be-sophisticated sitcoms ended up causing two smart new romantic comedies, Almost Perfect and If Not For You, to get lost in the prime-time shuffle. In Almost Perfect, the producer of a TV cop show (Nancy Travis) and a DA (Kevin Kilner) meet cute in a restaurant and commence a fling. In If Not for You, an audio-book producer (Elizabeth McGovern) and a record producer (Hank Azaria) meet cute in a res taurant and would like to commence a fling, but each is engaged to another.
If If‘s premise is slightly more original than Perfect‘s, Perfect has the better subplot: The show that Travis’ character works on is called Blue Justice, a barely disguised version of NYPD Blue and a springboard for amusing TV in-jokes as well as a funny staff, which includes thirtysomething‘s David Clennon as a zonked, black-humored writer more interested in researching autopsy photos than in devising plot twists.
Both of these shows star actresses who’ve made their reputations in feature films, yet who prove to be dexterous sitcom leads. Travis has a ball as a brassy, frazzled career woman. She’s well paired with Kilner, with his calm demeanor (he seems like Scott Bakula with a better sense of irony). You have no trouble imagining these two hitting it off.
Although there’s chemistry aplenty between McGovern (she looks soft, speaks firmly) and Azaria (he looks haggard, speaks energetically), the show’s first problem is that it’s all too obvious that their betrotheds were never the right mates for either of them. There’s just no way, for example, that McGovern’s smart, wry character would go for a guy (Peter Krause) who stares at her blankly and says, ”I can never tell when you’re joking.” The show’s second problem is, What is this series going to do once McGovern and Azaria dump their intendeds, other than turn into a well-written Mad About You rip?
Anyway, so far, Perfect‘s stars have displayed a flair for physical comedy (I really laughed when Kilner dried his hands on a cat), and If, a penchant for high-toned low jokes (the pilot has a punchline quote from Pascal). May CBS attract the younger demographics it seeks with these shows, and may both of them survive and deepen their respective love affairs. Almost Perfact: B