CBS rings the sitcom bell with “If Not For You,” adelightfully produced romantic written by co-exec producer Larry Levin. With Elizabeth McGovern and Hank Azaria falling for each other even though each is engaged to someone else, the smart storytelling doesn’t flag; it’s a classy show.
Jessie Kent (McGovern), who’s producing audio books at a Minneapolis studio, sits at the table next to Craig Schaeffer (Hank Azaria), a record producer at the same studio. Both are with their finances and exchange a glance. Or two. Next day, they bump into each other and she tries to stick to her guns, but he wants to see her alone. She waffles, of course, but it’s strictly honorable — and they fall.
Their intendeds (Peter Krause, Jane Sibbett) are solid characters. But Jessie and Craig are an instant team, from first exchange to a witty telephone duplicity.
Both actors, under Barnet Kellman’s artful direction, know how to charm. Levin has placed them among so-far marginal support: Jim Turner’s goof-up sound engineer Cal; Reno Wilson’s songwriter who’s inspired by Craig’s life. But there’s Eileen (Debra Jo Rupp), who specializes in mechanical-voice recordings, and Kate (Deborah Tucker) and Lance (Chris Hogan), whom Jessie bumps into in a tavern.
“INFY” promises and delivers, with McGovern and Azaria playing off each other in style. It’s sharp comedy, tasteful, insightful and quick. And it’s something else not often applied to TV: sophisticated.
Waldemar Kalinowski’s designs are sure-fire, and tech credits are terrif. But it’s Levin’s writing that creates the joy.