It's a sad comment on the state of network primetime that the fall TV season's most exciting new couple happens to star in one of its dippiest shows. The couple's chemistry burns white-hot. Yet for all of their sassy electricity, the storyline tends to douse the flame.

It’s a sad comment on the state of network primetime that the fall TV season’s most exciting new couple happens to star in one of its dippiest shows. “To Have & to Hold” provides sparks galore from the captivating Moira Kelly and beefcakey Jason Beghe playing a Boston public defender and police detective, respectively, who happen to be passionately in love. Their chemistry burns white-hot. Yet for all of their sassy electricity, the storyline tends to douse the flame.

Blame it on scribe Joanne T. Waters’ trite sense of male-female sparring, replete with feminist cliches and sexist repartee — all of it punctuated by a hackneyed Irish attitude because, hey, this is Boston. And even our lovebirds have problems in struggling to remain consistent. Seems they’ve already put off their nuptials twice before.

Opening entry paints vivid pictures of two adults so different they simply can’t be apart. The sexual energy that drives together Sean McGrail (Beghe) and Annie Cornell (Kelly, with breakout potential in every simmer) is undeniable. So is their equally fiery banter. Sean — he of the washboard abs and low-key intensity — accuses Annie of being a feminist. Annie — with her pouty lips and headstrong demeanor — calls Sean a chauvinist pig. If this were the schoolyard at recess, they’d both be looking at an hour of detention.

Instead, these clashing sweethearts receive a lot of annoying feedback from the folks in their close-knit Irish neighborhood, including the unsolicited opinions of Sean’s theatrical mother Fiona (Fionnula Flanagan), his cop brothers Michael (Jason Wiles) and Tommy (Stephen Largay), and firefighting sibling Patrick (Stephen Lee).

First hour’s pointless plotlines include an A-story in which a buffoonish couple (Raymond O’Connor, Debra Jo Rupp) draw the attention of their police neighbors after the husband fires five shots to scare his wife. It works. She presses charges. He gets locked up. She changes her tune and wants him sprung. We know that she’s serious about this because she’s just baked a macaroni and cheese casserole for Annie in the hope that the cuisine will help inspire the defense lawyer to end this mess.

But Annie is far too obsessed with what Sean did at his bachelor party to much care about noodles. It all spills out during a preposterous courtroom scene in which she grills her husband-to-be on the stand about strippers and thong underwear. Just who does the lady think she’s talking to, the president of the United States?

Ultimately, this is a show that doesn’t know if it wants to be a comedy or a drama, and winds up dropping the ball on both counts.

Airing opposite “The Drew Carey Show,” “3rd Rock From the Sun,” “NewsRadio” and “Party of Five,” “To Have & To Hold” will likely be put out of its misery soon enough. Tech credits, however, are first rate.

To Have & To Hold

CBS; Wed. Sept. 30, 9 p.m.

Production

Filmed in Los Angeles by the Greenblatt Janollari Studio in association with CBS Prods. Executive producers, Robert Greenblatt, David Janollari, Scott Shepherd; co-executive producers, Joanne T. Waters, Alice West; producer, Neena Beber; director, James Hayman; writer, Waters.

Crew

Production designer, Donna Hattin; camera, Feliks Parnell; editor, Peter Basinski; music, James Raymond; sound, Will Yarbrough; casting, Carol Kritzer. 60 MIN.

Cast

Annie Cornell - Moira Kelly Sean McGrail - Jason Beghe Patrick McGrail - Stephen Lee Tommy McGrail - Stephen Largay Michael McGrail - Jason Wiles Fiona McGrail - Fionnula Flanagan Carolyn McGrail - Colleen Flynn Robert McGrail - John Cullum Ellen Cornell - Mariette Hartley Guest stars: Raymond O'Connor, Debra Jo Rupp, Aixa Clemente, Douglas Roberts, Jody Wood, Ivan Basso, Brent Jennings.
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