“Maggie Winters” (not to be confused with just plain “Maggie,” a new comedy on Lifetime) is Faith Ford’s coming-out party following a decade of playing Corky Sherwood on “Murphy Brown” — a role that earned her five Emmy nominations. And Ford proves she can convincingly play someone besides Corky, centering a colorful ensemble with elan and spunk in a show that looks to hold some early promise.
That said, there are far too many cartoony exchanges in exec producer Kari Lizer’s opening teleplay, particularly in the dialogue springing from the lips of Maggie’s clueless, insensitive mother (Shirley Knight) and in the over-the-top depiction of a resentful nerdette played by “Ellen’s” Clea Lewis. Somehow, though, Ford holds it all together with her sheer presence.
In the title role, Ford plays a young dynamo voted “most likely to succeed” in her Shelbyville, Ind., high school who is now coming up on her class’s 15-year reunion suddenly husbandless and jobless. Hubby, a dentist, just ran off with his hygienist, or the “tooth-cleaning trollop” as Maggie’s indelicate ma, Estelle, puts it.
With her dreams in turnaround, Maggie mopes her way back home to recover in the bosom of her high school pals Robin (Jenny Robertson), voted “most likely to breed” — she’s right on schedule with a brood of rugrats — and Lisa (Alex Kapp Horner), a caustic boutique owner still looking for love in all the wrong places.
Maggie is happy to pick up with the girls, but can’t shake the feeling she’s living in the past. Still, she’s positively forward-thinking compared with Tom (Brian Haley), the onetime big-man-on-campus, who’s now a bartender with his emotional development and memory bank forever stuck at age 17.
Yet it’s Bobby (Vincent Ventresca) — Maggie’s high school flame — whom Maggie is now aching for once again.
If the material here is a tad derivative of too many single-gal sitcoms (“Mary Tyler Moore-ose”), Ford rises above it thanks to her confidence and inherent likeability. She and her supporting crew are also having an awfully good time, a factor that shouldn’t be underestimated as “Maggie Winters” prepares to do Wednesday night battle against “Dateline NBC,” “Dawson’s Creek” on the WB and Fox’s “Beverly Hills, 90210.”
The good news for CBS: “90210” appears to be fading. The bad news: “Maggie Winters'” lead-in, “The Nanny,” may be fading faster. No one ever said life after “Murphy” would be easy. Tech credits are solid.