By Ken Tucker
Updated September 28, 2012 at 12:00 PM EDT
Credit: Heather Wines/CBS
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You can be sure that a character made a Real Housewives of New Jersey joke during the premiere of Made in Jersey on Friday night. This was practically required, to prove that Made in Jersey‘s producers are aware of the reality-TV competition, and of its edited ethnic stereotypes. But rather than looking a though it’s pandering or surrendering to the Housewives franchise, Made in Jersey did something good — it created characters that humanize a certain kind of lower-middle-class Jersey citizen rather than monster-size her or him, and did its best to suggest that even not-great scripted television frequently proves superior to the pinnacle of “reality,” at least as it’s packaged on Bravo.

Made in Jersey stars Janet Montgomery, the latest British actor to go all-American on us, as Martina Garretti, who’s just joined a white-shoe Manhattan law firm. Her roots, including her follicles, to judge from the beauty salon scenes, are firmly in Jersey, and this is the familiar set-up of the Snooty Underestimating The Doughty Underdog. But when the Snooty are played by Stephanie March, last seen being extra-WASPy in Law & Order:SVU, and Kyle MacLachlan, who’s entered his silver-haired wise-man stage, these are worthy counterpoints to Montgomery (Black Swan), who works the accent, the short tight skirts, and her character’s sympatico with cops and bartenders to her advantage.

Yes, the series borrows a lot of its atmosphere and attitude from the films Working Girl and My Cousin Vinny. And, yes, it’s worrisome that creator Dana Calvo comes to this new show from stints on two popular stinkers, Franklin & Bash and Covert Affairs. But one must approach every new effort was as clean a slate as possible, and taken on its own terms, Made in Jersey has a lot of energy in both its star and the pace of its storytelling.

I certainly can’t say I’ll be watching Made in Jersey every week — you know me, I’ll be front-and-center for Fringe — but, placed in the middle position on CBS between CSI:NY and especially the large-family-centric Blue Bloods, there’s no reason to believe Made in Jersey can’t make a ratings go of it.

If you watched the premiere, I’d be interested to know what you think, below.

Twitter: @kentucker

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