"Think back to when we started this business," Joel Goodman, one of the lead characters in ABC-TV's "Blue Skies," tells his partner in the pilot episode. "We had just one brilliant idea: Rip off L. L. Bean."
In that punch line lies the premise for this new sitcom, which will premiere at 8:30 tonight on WJZ (Channel 13): Two young guys, best friends, start a mail-order catalog business for outdoor gear and are almost making a go of it after only a year.
"Almost" is where things get interesting for Goodman (Corey Parker) and his partner, Russell Evans (Matt Roth), owners of the Blue Skies back-to-nature catalog business. It's also where the fun starts for viewers in this offbeat, hyperactive sleeper of a sitcom.
The partners had hired a guy named Kenny (Richard Kind) as the accountant for their fledgling company. Kenny was chosen for ++ the job mainly because he is Joel's cousin. But Kenny, they find out tonight, is also an embezzler who has spent any profits the partners made.
Just when it looks like the company might go under because of Kenny's thievery, though, in out of the blue, so to speak, walks a job applicant, Ellie Baskin (Julia Campbell). Ellie is a Harvard M.B.A. who is so much smarter than either Joel or Russell that she winds up becoming a third partner. Ellie not only saves the company, but she also has one-year and five-year plans to take it into the Fortune 500 league. Ellie is brilliant, beautiful and just a little obsessive.
Both of the partners, of course, are smitten with Ellie. The question is whether hiring her to save the business is going to cost them their friendship of more than 20 years. Throw in Ellie's dog, Carlton, and you have one of the few situations this season worthy of the "sit" in sitcom.
"Blue Skies" has a number of things going for it, starting with the cast. Parker is probably best known as the sexy house painter/lover Melanie Mayron's Melissa Steadman character took up with in "thirtysomething." But he was also a comic delight as the twentysomething Neil Bar-ash in the short-lived Fox sitcom, "Flying Blind," a couple of seasons ago. He brings a manic edge to Joel Goodman, and it makes for a Marx-Brothers-like energy in "Blue Skies."
Evans, Campbell and Kind have each done solid supporting work, on "Roseanne," "Herman's Head" and "Mad About You," respectively. Kind is especially fine in scenes with Parker, sending the sitcom's energy dial into the red zone of manic.
All of that said, "Blue Skies" probably won't be a big hit -- at least not in the time slot it now occupies. It's up against "Dave's World," "Blossom" and "Melrose Place" -- three of the most successful shows on TV.
So, why is ABC playing it there? Because it's a show told from the guys' point of view and primarily targeted at young men. At 8:30 p.m. Monday, it has the advantage of a lead-in from "Coach" and a lead-out to "Monday Night Football" -- two of the strongest shows in terms of male viewers.