By sandwiching "Caroline in the City" in the highly desirable spot between "Seinfeld" and "ER," NBC obviously has high hopes for the frosh sitcom -- with good reason. Lea Thompson turns in a winning perf as cartoonist Caroline in this sophisticated yet loopy sitcom. "Caroline" should hold on to the "Must-see TV" crowd and deliver morefemale demos to the already heavily female-skewing "ER."

By sandwiching “Caroline in the City” in the highly desirable spot between “Seinfeld” and “ER,” NBC obviously has high hopes for the frosh sitcom — with good reason. Lea Thompson turns in a winning perf as cartoonist Caroline in this sophisticated yet loopy sitcom. “Caroline” should hold on to the “Must-see TV” crowd and deliver more female demos to the already heavily female-skewing “ER.”

Caroline draws the highly successful “Caroline in the City” comic strip (which is very similar to the real-life strip “Cathy”). She draws on her life experiences and friends for ideas: sexually liberated neighbor Annie (Amy Pietz) , whose dating exploits help fuel the comic strip; on-again, off-again boyfriend Del (Eric Lutes); and Richard, the comic strip colorist that she has just hired (Malcolm Gets).

Pilot finds Caroline off again with Del, and he tells her that he has a hot date. She lies and tells him, of course, that, gee, she’s got a hot date, too, and of course, both couples are skedded to eat at the same restaurant.

But what’s fresh and entertaining is that the snappy, smart dialogue and the empathetic characters transcend the old chestnut of a plot, winning over the audience.

“Caroline’s” New York setting and attractive bunch of young professionals are a perfect fit for NBC’s juggernaut Thursday lineup. Thompson is winning and strikes a balance between totally together careerist and single woman searching for a mate.

As Richard, Gets does a fine job fleshing out what could be just a morose weirdo, grounding him with humanity. Pietz and Lutes round out the pro cast.

Vet director James Burrows keeps the pace zesty and light. Tech credits are tops.

Caroline in the City

(Thurs. (21), 9:30-10, NBC)

Production

Filmed in Los Angeles by Barron/Pennette Prods. and Three Sisters Entertainment in association with CBS Entertainment Prods. Executive producers, Fred Barron, Marco Pennette; co-exec producer, Dottie Dartland; consulting producer, Ian Praiser; executive consultant, Bob Ellison; producers, Faye Oshima Belyeu, Bill Prady; director, James Burrows; writers, Amy Cohen, Jennifer Glickman, Ellen Idelson, Rob Lotterstein, Michelle Nader.

Crew

Camera, Ken Lamkin; editor, Peter Chakos; production designer, Tho. E. Azzari; sound, Dana McClure; music, Jonathan Wolff; cartoonist, Bonnie Timmons; animation, the Ink Tank.

Cast

Cast: Lea Thompson, Eric Lutes, Malcolm Gets, Amy Pietz, Andy Lauer, Tom La Grua, Jason Workman, Cathy Ladman, Sean Gregory Sullivan, John Mariano, Christine Taylor.
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