Can a pair of new romantic sitcoms clone Dharma & Greg's odd-couple chemistry?

By Bruce Fretts
October 29, 1999 at 04:00 AM EDT

It sounded like a thin premise on paper: Hippie marries yuppie. But Dharma & Greg (ABC, Tuesdays, 9-9:30 p.m.) continues to thrive even in its third time slot in as many seasons. And that, of course, is why two new sitcoms are attempting to duplicate D&G’s opposites-attract formula: Love & Money (CBS, Fridays, 8:30-9 p.m.) and Then Came You (ABC, date and time TBA).

L&M plays like D&G with the sex roles reversed. Instead of a rich guy, it’s a wealthy woman, Allison Conklin (Paget Brewster), who falls for someone outside her social class — in this case, it’s Eamon McBride (Brian Van Holt), the superintendent of her snooty New York City apartment building. And just as Greg’s mother (Susan Sullivan) initially disapproved of Dharma, Allison’s upper-crust father (David Ogden Stiers) looks down on Eamon, deriding him as ”the janitor.”

Both shows suffer from weak-link male leads. Thomas Gibson has never matched Jenna Elfman, Sullivan, Mitchell Ryan (as his martini-happy dad), or Mimi Kennedy and Alan Rachins (as Dharma’s stuck-in-the-’60s parents). The blandly handsome Van Holt also seems in over his head.

He vanishes next to the winsome Brewster, who polished her sitcom chops with a recurring gig as the woman who came between Joey (Matt LeBlanc) and Chandler (Matthew Perry) on Friends a few years back. Stiers is an old hand at playing old money from his days as M*A*S*H’s Charles Emerson Winchester, and he’s ideally paired with Sisters‘ Swoosie Kurtz as his perpetually tipsy wife. Creators Dan Staley and Rob Long (George & Leo) sprinkle L&M with clever quips (”Another dividend from your experiment with public schools,” Stiers says to Kurtz after learning Brewster has had a crush on Van Holt since second grade), leading you to wonder why CBS is sticking it on Fridays after Kids Say the Darndest Things.

At least L&M has a home, which is more than Then Came You can currently claim. Slated to air on Thursdays after Whose Line Is It Anyway?, Then was pulled before it ever aired. ABC says it’ll appear at midseason, and one can only pray the show is being significantly retooled in the meantime, because the pilot is pretty awful.

The justifiably unknown Susan Floyd stars as a 33-year-old book editor who divorces her boring-lawyer husband, moves into a hotel, and embarks on a fling with a 22-year-old room-service clerk (the equally obscure Thomas Newton). Their allegedly titillating age difference leads to smarmy, warmed-over one-liners: ”What am I doing with a guy who doesn’t even remember the Bicentennial?” was funnier when Courteney Cox Arquette said a variation of it on an old Friends.

D&G‘s humor isn’t especially fresh this season either. You can tell a sitcom’s running out of ideas when characters start switching personalities, which happened when Greg dropped out of society to find himself and Dharma found herself missing the perks of fancy meals and fold-and-fluff laundry. Other episodes have been padded with needless musical sequences, including one in which Elfman demonstrated her so-so drumming in a jam session with Bob Dylan. Why was Dylan on D&G? The answer, my friend, is ”Beats me.”