October 25, 1999 at 04:00 AM EDT

Here’s our take on Jennifer Love Hewitt’s new show

This fall, it really looked as though 1999-2000 would be the season of the TV spin-off. Not since the mid ’70s — when networks were populated with sitcom spawn like ”Rhoda,” ”Phyllis,” ”Maude,” and ”The Jeffersons” — have viewers seen such a proliferation of successfully spun-off characters and concepts on the tube. There’s ”Law & Order: Special Victims Unit,” NBC’s companion (some say carbon copy, but who’s quibbling?) to ”L&O,” which is pulling in criminally impressive numbers in its Monday-night slot. The WB pumped some new blood into its Tuesday-night ratings and into David Boreanaz’s increasingly irrelevant ”Buffy the Vampire Slayer” character by giving him his own show, ”Angel,” allowing him to brood in a whole new city, Los Angeles.

Even the lowly UPN netlet is getting lucky: ”The Parkers,” a ”Moesha” spin-off starring Countess Vaughn, has consistently built on Brandy’s lead-in since it debuted in August. (Brandy must love being outwatched by her former costar, seeing how it’s rumored that she and Vaughn were never exactly off-screen buds.)

But tonight, this promising trend in TV recycling will come to a screeching halt with the debut of Fox’s foray into the spin-off arena, the Jennifer Love Hewitt post-”Party of Five” series, ”Time of Your Life.” Just a quick recap for those of you who haven’t seen a magazine or syndicated entertainment program in the past six months: Hewitt’s character, the sweet Sarah Reeves, decides to leave her San Francisco ”Party” home to head — where else? — to New! York! City! in search of her long-lost daddy. Once there, she meets an assortment of quirky twentysomething folks on similar self-discovery missions, from a young, struggling musician (Johnathon Schaech) to a young, struggling actress (Jennifer Warner).

If the clichés haven’t killed you yet, here’s what will: Too much Jennifer! Bless her saucer-eyed, girlish-giggle-filled heart, but Miss Love Hewitt is just too darn earnest (and weepy — her alter ego barely stops crying throughout the entire ”Time” pilot) to be bearable for a whole hour. On ”Party,” her soft-spoken niceness worked because, for the most part, it was used economically (i.e. Sarah gives Claudia a sex talk, or Sarah administers tough love to a drunken Bailey). But in ”Time” we get a whole lotta Love, and she’s in full-tilt goody-two-shoes mode, marveling at the Big City and naively sharing her dreams with strangers (who actually listen, proving that ”Time” is definitely a Los Angeleno’s idea of New York City). And — dear God — she sings.

Maybe there are ”Party” fans who were aching for more Sarah; if so, then ”Time” will be worth theirs. But so far, viewers haven’t been too keen on watching characters in their mid-20s deal with life and love in the late ’90s (see ABC’s current flop ”Wasteland” or Fox’s failed ”Significant Others,” a drama from ”Party” cocreators Chris Keyser and Amy Lippman). Here’s hoping that by May sweeps, little Sarah Reeves will realize she’s just too pure for nasty New York and run back to her safe supporting gig in San Francisco.

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