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'Almost Perfect' seems familiar, but that's not necessarily bad


How many times now have we seen two television characters interrupted in the throes of passion by one or both of their beepers going off? Think it's happened enough that we can safely call it a cliche for illustrating tension between personal and professional lives?

The shopworn beeper scene is right there smack dab in the middle of "Almost Perfect," a new CBS sitcom about two young professionals, which premieres at 8:30 tomorrow night (WJZ, Channel 13). But I found myself smiling anyway at a small, original punch line delivered between the beeps.

There isn't anything new, groundbreaking or brilliant enough about this series to earn even half a critical rave. But I think most viewers -- unlike critics -- would rather have the familiar leavened with a fresh laugh or two when it comes to sitcoms. And that is an almost perfect description of this show.

Nancy Travis ("Three Men and a Baby") plays Kim Cooper, the executive producer of a television cop show who wears a beeper in case there's a problem on the set.

Kevin Kilner, a Baltimore native and graduate of Johns Hopkins University, plays Mike Ryan, an assistant district attorney who wears a beeper in case there's a problem in court.

Both are in their early 30s, and between the demands of their beepers, their lives have not been graced with much beauty, truth or down time.

After they share a drink at a bar, they go to her place and start taking off each other's clothes, trading one-liners as buttons get unbuttoned and zippers get unzipped. Forget television, how many times have you seen this scene played in amateur theater productions?

But, like I said, familiar is not necessarily bad. And there is something familiar about the chemistry of Mike Ryan and Kim Cooper, too.

Viewers are either going to love or hate Cooper. She's only too happy to tell you how successful a television scriptwriter she is. In fact, at points, she comes off as downright cartoonish in her self-promotion -- an unstoppable, self-absorbed nightmare of a date. If you were seated next to her on a plane, you might try to get your seat changed before the plane takes off.

Ryan fares only slightly better on the likability index. That's because he has fewer lines and, thus, less opportunity in the pilot to reveal the pits and scars of his personality.

The first few pages of my screening notebook are scribbled with the following words, phrases and questions about Cooper and Ryan: shallow, selfish, narcissistic, consumed with jobs and image, "What about safe sex?" and "Why would anyone care whether Kim and Mike find love?"

So, why would anyone care enough about these two to become a regular viewer?

Sitting down to write the review, I realized why the notes seemed familiar. The words, phrases and questions were similar to ones I had written about two characters named Sam and Diane the first time I saw "Cheers." I think I liked those two even less the first time I saw them in that Boston bar.

No, I am not saying "Almost Perfect" is "Cheers" or anything remotely approaching "Cheers," based on this less than sparkling pilot. But it's worth noting that two of the three executive producers, Ken Levine and David Isaacs, wrote for "Cheers," which might explain the echoes.

(Yes, that Ken Levine, the one who did the Orioles' games on WBAL radio. And there's yet another Baltimore connection: Travis lived in Baltimore for a few years as a child.)

In the end, the success of "Almost Perfect" will probably have more to do with how its CBS lead-in, "Cybill," fares against NBC's "Mad About You," Fox's "The Simpsons" and ABC's "Lois & Clark" than it does the chemistry of Cooper and Ryan. The 8 p.m. Sunday time slot is the hottest matchup in television this year -- so hot that it's likely to determine winners and losers throughout the Sunday night schedules of all the networks.

Scheduling and time period supersede art. When it comes to commercial television and the fates of new series, what axiom could be more familiar than that?

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