The Fox network used the World Series to promote its new sin-soap ”Skin” so heavily, you may have been momentarily bamboozled into thinking that Monday evening was destined to turn into ”Everybody Loves Porn” night. It’s always nice to have an alternative, though, and choices don’t get any more choice than the option to flip over to The WB and journey to the snowcapped land of ”Everwood,” where some weeks the biggest problem is whether Gregory Smith’s magnificently grumpy young Ephram is going to continue playing classical piano.
Mind you, I don’t praise ”Everwood” for its high-culture grace notes. No, what we’ve got here is an utterly absorbing nighttime soap that falls somewhere between ”7th Heaven”’s squeaky-clean absurdity (like a New York City brain surgeon such as the one Treat Williams plays with an uncanny commingling of humility and arrogance would just up and move his family to a tiny Colorado hamlet) and ”The O.C.”’s hormones-bustin’-out-all-over tension: Will Ephram win over Emily VanCamp’s impeccably melancholy Amy? Exactly when will Williams’ Dr. Andy Brown inevitably succumb to the chai-tea smoothness of Marcia Cross’ exotic doc, Linda Abbott?
How clever of creator Greg Berlanti and Co. that they’ve folded a former ”Melrose Place” minx into this family-show mix. ”Everwood” has also pulled off what looked like a literal dead-end plot — having Amy grieve lengthily over the demise of her brain-damaged boyfriend, Colin (Mike Erwin). This made Ephram’s yearning to put the moves on Amy impossible, lest he come off as a callous cad. Yet the series is negotiating this emotional terrain with a delicacy enlivened by some first-rate flirting.
Some fans seem a bit riled by the recent introduction of a comely babysitter into the Brown household, but Sarah Lancaster plays Madison as so whip smart and worldly that she’s proven to be an element we didn’t even realize the show needed: an intellectual equal, not a love interest, for brainy city boy Ephram. (It also helps that Lancaster is no slouch in the cheekbones department.)
I don’t even have room to heap proper praise on Tom Amandes’ adroit portrait of a prissy physician with complex emotions. Nor to marvel sufficiently at Williams’ ability to make the most butt-ugly beard in prime time seem less Grizzly Adams than Sigmund Freud: Treat can make his facial hair act. The only thing I’d lose is John Beasley’s treacly voice-over (but not his endearing bus-driver character — more of him, please). Really, if you’re not watching ”Everwood,” you’re not missing a guilty pleasure: You’re missing pure pleasure.