Brutally Normal

The WB's "Brutally Normal" comes out swinging and lands all of its punches. This funny and sharp look at everything high school deserves an audience, but whether the Britney Spears/'N Sync set will buy into its odd combination of slapstick and quirkiness should be of great concern to the net's execs. But stick with this one, folks -- any show that looks to "The Graduate" for inspiration is worthy of serious attention.

With:
Russell - Eddie Kaye Thomas Pooh - Mike Damus Anna - Lea Moreno Dru - Tangie Ambrose Gogi - Joanna Pacula With: Sean Gunn, Antwon Tanner, Mimi Lieber, Cassidy Rae.

The WB’s “Brutally Normal” comes out swinging and lands all of its punches. This funny and sharp look at everything high school deserves an audience, but whether the Britney Spears/’N Sync set will buy into its odd combination of slapstick and quirkiness should be of great concern to the net’s execs. But stick with this one, folks — any show that looks to “The Graduate” for inspiration is worthy of serious attention.

“Normal’s” most impressive aspect is its solid ensemble. Instead of “Dawson’s Creek”-y hunks and babes lining scene after scene with lust, the kids on “Normal” are, well, normal. Nerds to some degree but confident enough in their own skin to appreciate individuality, this cast has a great sense of humor hidden underneath layers of insecurity. As sweet as “Freaks and Geeks” but without that critical fave’s lesson-teaching undertones, “Normal” succeeds as both a rimshot sitcom and a snapshot of suburbia.

It also taps into the current rage on TV: pop culture referencing fused with wink-wink giggles. Think “Ally McBeal” meets “Square Pegs.”

And the star sophomores are quite a trio. Russell (Eddie Kaye Thomas) is a cocky goofball who’s neither a jock nor a loser; Robert “Pooh” Cutler (Mike Damus) is an anxiety-riddled worrier who thinks the PSAT test is out to get him; and Anna (Lea Moreno) is the confused one, an average-looking charmer constantly questioning her sexuality and her existence.

Debut episode finds Russell faced with the opportunity of a lifetime. At an art exhibition, he spies Kate Miller (Cassidy Rae), a blonde beauty enjoying the evening alone. Ready to turn on the charm, Russell approaches the lovely stranger and talks her into one brief kiss after he convinces her they’ll never meet up again.

Wrong. Next day, a substitute teacher arrives, and guess who it is. When Ms. Miller finds out that Russell is one of her students, she lays down the law, but he’s not ready to give up the dream.

And neither is anyone else. Acquaintances demand proof, Lenny (Sean Gunn) wants a photo of them to put on his Web site, and Pooh needs to snap the shot in order to get a yearbook position. The only voice of reason is Anna, who will do anything to save this poor woman’s career.

“Normal” works because it laughs at itself nonstop. Maybe the payoff from the recent teenybopper renaissance is that new programs now tease the teenybopper renaissance. And that can get downright hysterical.

Wackiness aside, there’s also something very assuring about “Normal’s” good-hearted view of today’s youth. Wisely staying away from beyond-their-years brats and good-looking airheads, the spiked framing of adolescent hopes is a refreshing change from the unrealistic treatment offered up by the majority of young-demo programming.

Tech credits are strong, with the one-camera approach helped a bunch by some lively editing.

Brutally Normal

WB Network; Mon. Jan. 24; 8 p.m.

Production: Filmed in Los Angeles by Shephard/Robin and Touchstone Television. Executive producers, Tommy Swerdlow, Michael Goldberg, Greer Shephard and Michael M. Robin; producer, Patrick McKee; director, Marc Buckland; writer, Stephen Chbosky.

Cast: Russell - Eddie Kaye Thomas Pooh - Mike Damus Anna - Lea Moreno Dru - Tangie Ambrose Gogi - Joanna Pacula With: Sean Gunn, Antwon Tanner, Mimi Lieber, Cassidy Rae.Camera, Sharone Meir; production designer, Naomi Shohan; editor, Lisa Bromwell; music, Stewart Copeland, Ryan Beveridge; casting, Robert J. Ulrich, Eric Dawson, Carol Kritzer. Running time: 30 MIN.

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