Starring Jennifer Grey (as herself) the latest sitcom from Peter Mehlman tries to do for Los Angeles what ''Seinfeld'' did for New York

April 23, 1999 at 04:00 AM EDT

Here’s a catchy concept for a sitcom: A bunch of oddball underachievers loaf around an apartment all day making wry observational wisecracks like ”Don’t you think the letter Q should come a lot farther down in the alphabet?” There’s an unemployed bald guy, an angsty fellow with potentially unruly hair, an attractive female suffering from chronic career crisis…

It’s called It’s like, you know…, and it’s a lot like — well, we don’t have to spell it out for you. One of ABC’s most-hyped shows this season, it’s the brainchild of Seinfeld scribe Peter Mehlman, who helped pen some of that late great show’s most inspired episodes and catchphrases (including ”sponge-worthy” and ”yada-yada”). And while his smartly written new series does offer some promising twists — this time all that high-concept chitchat takes place in Los Angeles, the most punchline-worthy city on earth — its seemingly Jerry-rigged premise does raise an obvious question: After nine years of Soup Nazis and Bubble Boys, is there room left on the airwaves for another comedy about — nothing?

”It’s only 5 percent son of Seinfeld,” answers Mehlman, 43, sounding a bit like George Costanza after not getting thanked for a Big Salad. ”The naturalistic dialogue is similar, but there are a lot of differences. Our characters are much nicer, they treat each other better. And this show is really about Los Angeles. The city itself is a major character — if not the main character.”

As for the minor ones: There’s Arthur, a kvetchy New York writer (played by Chris Eigeman) who’s visiting L.A. to research a book titled Living in Los Angeles: How Can You Stomach It? There’s Arthur’s best friend, Robbie (Steven Eckholdt), a much more successful L.A. transplant who’s made a fortune cable-casting the High Holy Day services (he calls it ”pay-per-Jew”). And there’s the bald buddy, Shrug (Evan Handler), a troubled trust-fund baby who unwinds with frequent rubdowns from Lauren (A.J. Langer), a masseuse who moonlights as a subpoena server.

Naturally, there’s also a wacky sitcom neighbor perpetually barging in — and it’s a doozy. She’s Jennifer, a once-famous film star whose career took a nosedive after a rhinoplasty operation left her utterly unrecognizable. Amazingly, Mehlman found the perfect actress to play her: Jennifer Grey, the once-famous Dirty Dancing star whose career took a nosedive after a rhinoplasty operation left her utterly unrecognizable. More on her later.

So far ABC has committed to airing only 7 of the 13 episodes taped, but the network has heavily promoted the series, running pricey ads during the Academy Awards. Money well spent: The show pulled in 12 million viewers for its March 24 premiere (respectable numbers, considering it followed President Clinton’s speech announcing the bombing of Yugoslavia), grabbed an additional 2 million viewers its second week, and built on its Dharma & Greg lead-in in its third.

Still, ABC has had concerns, particularly about how one major character — the one with the initials L.A. — would play in the heartland. ”It is very L.A.-centric,” says ABC Entertainment president Jamie Tarses. ”There’s a tremendous specificity to it — even the names of freeways — but you just hope that people will get into the characters and the situations.” Situations, Tarses may mean, like the one in which the characters spend an entire episode huddled around a TV set watching a very L.A.-esque high-speed police chase down the 101 South.

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