It’s back. “Grapevine” returns to CBS after a summer run in 1992, and the timing couldn’t be better. Things are a bit racier now, with “Ally McBeal” and “Sex and the City” scoring critical nods for suggestive story arcs, and that bodes well for David Frankel’s retooled laffer. Auds up for similar skinship, sharp writing and stylish technique will appreciate its second coming.
The development process has many critics in Hollywood, but this is how it’s supposed to operate. As exec producers, Frankel, along with “Sex” vet Barry Jossen, tweaked a little and changed a lot, and the result is a confident trip down Neurotic Blvd. Quickly paced and peculiar, “Grapevine” scores because its obsessive pals have such good hearts. Everyone is pretty, but they’re also young , aggressive and slightly annoying. It’s “SportsNight” on the beach.
Susan (Kristy Swanson) is the ringleader. A Miami-based cruise line exec who meddles too much, she holds court every week to discuss, with the viewers, her romantic hits and misses. Show’s interweaving subplots are tied to her, for she either knows the lovers involved, set them up or can’t stand them.
Her best friend is David (Steve Eckholdt), a South Beach restaurateur whose crush on Susan has grown stronger since college. Charming and reserved, he balances out his brother Thumper (George Eads), a beefcakey sportscaster with a primary goal to bed every woman he meets.
Pilot quickly establishes that these educated and egotistical fretters are only looking for new conquests. But to be sure, this isn’t another Aaron Spelling humpfest. The trio is tuned to real life, worrying about the future, whining about the present and in search of some kind of connection to reality. But it’s Susan and David’s relationship that links everything together, and their blooming devotion anchors the series. While she’s commenting on the world’s flirty ways, he’s trying his best to win her affection. It’s sweet.
Breaking down the fourth wall certainly isn’t original, but the technique is still effective when done right. Frankel’s characters aren’t just talking to the camera, they’re thrilled that they get to chat about themselves. Susan wants to blab; Dave needs an ear; and Thumper just brags about his manliness.
And the perfs are solid. Swanson nails down the self-conscious, beau-less busybody who turns heads, and Eckholdt is strong as the pragmatic everyguy. But Eads gets the best scenes; his cocky mimbospeak is hilarious. Second episode introduces a fourth friend to the cast, Matt (David Sutcliffe).
Frankel’s little-seen “Miami Rhapsody” was an inviting ode to Woody Allen, and he’s able to boil that promise down to 30 minutes chock full of delightful comic kernels. Nothing seems that fresh in “Grapevine,” but it all gels together with a sense of purpose.
Tech credits are excellent across the board, with inviting locations and lively editing adding up to one terrific comedy.