This year’s freshman winner of NBC’s annual Thursday night Dream Timeslot Sweepstakes, the engaging but cliched “Jesse” begins life with a silver spoon and a golden opportunity. Arriving with expectations and responsibility, it’s far too early to predict whether “Jesse” will fulfill NBC’s mandate to hold viewers in the hammock, though early indications are somewhat troubling.
The fetching Christina Applegate, looking and acting nothing like Kelly Bundy, the vixen she played for 11 seasons on Fox’s “Married … With Children,” is luminous and believably vulnerable. As much as Jesse is a heroine for the ’90s — confused, fragile, overprotected and dour — the show has no real vigor, lacking the spark that would compel the audience to return week after week.
Applegate is Jesse Warner, a demure and downbeat single mother in Buffalo, N.Y., waiting tables in a bar owned by her gruff daddy, John Sr. (George Dzundza). Jesse, 26, has lost touch with her romantic yearnings and instead throws herself into her work, restricts her social life to outings with her feisty 10-year-old, Little John (Eric Lloyd), and focuses on looking after her dad, her son and a pair of oddball brothers.
Older brother John Jr. (John Lehr) is a shaggy-haired nut case who has for the past year refused to speak while he considers a more effective form of communication. Younger sibling Darren (David DeLuise) is a get-rich-quick dreamer who spends the pilot trying to unload boxes of unfinished gnome statuettes.
Into this quagmire of male weirdness strides Diego (Bruno Campos), a suave, Antonio Banderas-like Chilean immigrant who moves in next door and immediately sets out to sweep Jesse off her feet. It scares the tar out of Jesse to feel what she’s feeling, so she agrees to go out on a date with Diego only to do laundry together.
By the time scribe Ira Ungerleider’s sensitively wrought opening teleplay is done, Jesse will have flip-flopped endlessly, at once grabbing for Diego and pushing him away. Her con-flicting emotions will certainly hold some viewers and what happens with these two will be its most interesting component.
Tech credits are sharp.