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May 28, 1999 at 04:00 AM EDT

How to spend your Memorial Day weekend

Ah, Memorial Day. A time when hardworking Americans take advantage of a temporary release from the bondage of fluorescent-lit office buildings to barbecue, soak up the sun, and finally get around to all those movies, TV shows, books, and CDs they’ve been too busy to check out. As we here at EW Online like nothing better than to advise our dear readers on what to enjoy, allow me to offer some suggestions for three-day-weekend entertainment options that you may have heretofore overlooked.

TV It’s 8 p.m. on Friday night. You’re ready to spend a quiet evening at home before whooping it up this weekend. So what’s on the tube? Try NBC’s schmaltzy-but-sweet family drama ”Providence.” Sure, it’s been savaged by critics since its debut last winter, but despite its aggressive wholesomeness, this corny concoction about a pleasant plastic surgeon (Melina Kanakaredes) who leaves her husband and moves home is a surprisingly entertaining veg-out option. Besides Kanakaredes (whose character, Syd, is the epitome of ”nice”), ”Providence” also boasts the soothing Mike Farrell as a touchy-feely veterinarian, a job that ensures the near weekly appearance of cute puppies or monkeys or other cuddly things. Of course, guys tend to find this show nearly as hateful as shoe shopping (my boyfriend threatens to set himself on fire if I turn it on), so ladies will likely find themselves watching alone.

Books Those making their inaugural trip to the shore may want to tote along the ideal beach read, ”Bridget Jones’ Diary” by Helen Fielding, just released this week in paperback. A breezy, chatty story told from the perspective of a calorie-obsessed ”singleton” waging a war against ”smug marrieds” and the horrors of dating (she’s been called the British version of Ally McBeal), ”Bridget” hit the stands last summer and spawned a new genre of ”single girls” fiction (like the current ”Girls Guide to Hunting and Fishing” and ”Otherwise Engaged”). It’s such a quick, funny read (sample line: ”I am aging prematurely, I realized. Like a time-release film of a plum turning into a prune.”), you’ll find yourself finished by the time the tide goes out.

Film Look, ”Star Wars” is probably going to linger in theaters until Christmas, so why not use your time off to see a movie that won’t be in the multiplexes much longer? A movie like ”Election,” for instance. Ironically, Reese Witherspoon (who I normally find truly annoying) really won me over with her concentrated portrayal of irritating overachiever Tracy Flick, a girl who will just DIE if she doesn’t get elected student-body president. With Matthew Broderick as a beleaguered teacher whose inexplicable hatred of Flick drives him to sabotage her campaign and, ultimately, his own marriage, this bleak comedy simultaneously punches you in the gut AND tickles your fancy. Can Jar Jar Binks do that? Meesa tinka not.

Music Some things are so silly you just can’t pass them by. Exhibit A: The debut album from MTV’s mush-mouth marionette Jesse Camp, imaginatively titled ”Jesse & the 8th Street Kidz.” Thought you didn’t miss hair metal? Scan through Camp’s meticulously produced (by Grammy winner Rob Cavallo), vocally garbled disc. Camp likens the sound to that of the New York Dolls and Guns N’ Roses, and indeed the glam, cheesy tunes do resemble the love children of Joey Ramone and Bret Michaels. Just try and resist ”Sloppy Kisses,” a boisterous you-and-me-against-the-world anthem that is the disc’s catchiest cut. Embarrassingly enough, I couldn’t get the chorus (”I’ll fulfill all of your wishes/With my big old sloppy kisses”) out of my head for three days. These ”Kidz” will play well as background noise at your Memorial Day cookout.

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