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ISSUE 115 VOL 14 PUBLISHED 3/8/2002

NBC hopes viewers are ‘Watching Ellie’

By Anonymous
Contributing Writer

Friday, March 8, 2002

To set the record straight, Julia Louis-Dreyfus will not succumb to the Seinfeld curse. Im not saying her new NBC show Watching Ellie will survive into next season, but its crystal clear that, unlike Seinfeld vets Jason Alexander and Michael Richards, Louis-Dreyfus has saddled herself with a show featuring a solid premise and even a few laughs. Created by her husband, Brad Hall, Ellie is one of the most innovative sitcoms in recent memory, and certainly one of the most talked-about shows of the season. Each episode takes place in real time -- 22 minutes, to be exact. And unlike most sitcoms of the day, Ellie follows the path paved by Malcolm in the Middle and Scrubs by filming with only one camera, minus a studio audience or laugh track. Louis-Dreyfus is Ellie Riggs, a single L.A. lounge singer who acts nuttier than a Snickers bar. There are certainly shades of Seinfelds Elaine, but Ellies just a little bit more down-to-Earth. But naturally Louis-Dreyfus does get a little wacky. In the first episode, Ellie is late for a gig, and we watch her stumble her way to her job. Along the way, we conveniently meet all of the supporting characters. Susan is Ellies sister (played by Lauren Bowles, Louis-Dreyfus real-life sister), whom Ellie jostles for advice on the phone. Soon, Ellies toilet is overflowing and she calls in her neighbor, Dr. Zimmerman (Don Lake), right out of the shower (and he forgets his towel  wouldnt anyone?). She also calls on another neighbor, the mysterious Ingvar (Peter Stormare of Fargo), who has more knowledge of plumbing. After mopping up the floor and getting peeked at by Ingvar, Ellies out the door and on the way to work, but first she runs into an annoying ex (The Daily Shows Steve Carrell), with whom she clearly wants little contact. When she finally makes it to work, she has a strange and rather heated conversation with her new boyfriend, Ben (Darren Boyd), a member of her band. In the closing moments, Ellie finally gets on stage and sings -- perhaps as a way of rewarding us for the 22-minute wait, or to showcase Louis-Dreyfussinging talent. Theres more good than bad in Watching Ellie. Lets start with the good: Louis-Dreyfus is one of the most talented actresses on television. She can take even the most mediocre lines and deliver them as fresh, sarcastic or funny. Even the way she laughs is amusing. Now for the bad news. Who can stay fully engaged for 22 straight minutes when we watch characters take lonely elevator rides? Where Ellie lags is the downtime. Hall and Louis-Dreyfus have certainly created a whimsical slice-of-life, but watching Ellie walk down a sidewalk by herself is just boring. Louis-Dreyfus is surrounded by fine actors, including Lake and Stormare. Unfortunately, theyre too animated to have much personality. Hopefully, in upcoming weeks, the supporting characters will be toned-down enough to carry their own storylines. Watching Ellie isnt exactly funny. I laughed really hard at the preview in which a piano smashes Ellies fingers and Louis-Dreyfus begins yelling, Ff... But the show itself has few big laughs. And who knows, maybe it doesnt need them if it remains consistently amusing. In todays TV market, whimsy is a lost art.

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