A most convincing argument that there is life after 40, ABC's new drama "Once and Again" goes directly against the grain of the current teen infatuation to focus on two families coping with divorce, separation and dating. Edward Zwick and Marshall Herskovitz ("thirtysomething," "My So-Called Life") have once again created an intricate tapestry of emotions and events, generations and perspectives into one of the best shows of the new fall season.

A most convincing argument that there is life after 40, ABC’s new drama “Once and Again” goes directly against the grain of the current teen infatuation to focus on two families coping with divorce, separation and dating. Edward Zwick and Marshall Herskovitz (“thirtysomething,” “My So-Called Life”) have once again created an intricate tapestry of emotions and events, generations and perspectives into one of the best shows of the new fall season.

Show is a much-needed sanctuary for drama lovers looking for identifiable characters. Lily and Rick, the characters played by Sela Ward and Billy Campbell , are intricately drawn portraits of very believable characters.

It helps that the show, created by Zwick and Herskovitz, has a writing pedigree that in future episodes will include Winnie Holzman (“My So-Called Life”) Richard Kramer (“thirtysomething,” “Tales of the City”) and playwrights Michael Weller and Donald Margulies, among others.

The temptation is to tag this show “fortysomething”; truth is, “Once and Again” is more a continuation of the teen angst of “My So-Called Life” and the intertwined relationships of “Relativity” as well as the intricacies of home and family life typical of “thirtysomething.”

As director, Herskovitz indulges in some artful stunts, making still photos come briefly to life to provide quick glimpses of the past, and using black-and-white to set off Lily and Rick sharing their thoughts on the action. Hardly subtle techniques, these segues are more informative than intrusive.

Ward and Campbell have palpable chemistry, with Ward capitalizing on body language and Campbell working tentative looks and furtive glances to maximum benefit. Julia Whelan and Shane West as Lily and Rick’s respective siblings offer a nice dramatic diversion with a hint of possible romance.

Stefania Cella’s production design, while painstakingly detailed, is far more pristine than most households with kids, and Julie Carnahan’s incredibly hip wardrobe betrays the harried lifestyle of these two weary working parents.

Still, the show has credibility. W.G. Snuffy Walden’s score provides a haunting atmosphere both familiar and stirring, while lensing by Michael D. O’Shea is rich and textured.

ABC plans to debut “Once and Again” in “NYPD Blue’s” timeslot Tuesdays at 10 p.m. — against NBC’s “Dateline” and CBS’ freshman “Judging Amy” — for six weeks, then return it to the sked come January, where it will air Monday nights at 10 against “Dateline” and rookie “Family Law” when “Monday Night Football” goes into hibernation.

And while viewers starved from a summer of reruns and throwaway shows may feel let down to lose something as meaty as “Once and Again” even briefly, this is a show worth waiting for.

Once and Again

(DRAMA; ABC, TUES. SEPT. 21, 10 P.M.)

Production

Filmed in Los Angeles by Bedford Falls Prods. in association with Touchstone Television. Executive producers, Marshall Herskovitz, Edward Zwick; producer, Peter Schindler; associate producer, Debra Petro Lovatelli; director, Marshall Herskovitz; writer, Herskovitz.

Crew

Camera, Michael D. O'Shea; editor, Ron Rosen; music, W.G. Snuffy Walden; sound, Joseph Geisinger; casting, Amy Lippens. Running time: 60 MIN.

With

Lily Manning..... Sela Ward Rick Sammler.....Billy Campbell Grace Manning..... Julia Whelan Eli Sammler..... Shane West Zoe Manning..... Meredith Deane Jesse Sammler.....Evan Rachel Wood Jake Manning..... Jeffrey Nordling Karen Sammler..... Susanna Thompson

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