So much for the “Seinfeld” curse: Julia Louis-Dreyfus breaks it with one of the best conventional half-hours to come along in a while — a sharp, funny romp created by actress-turned-writer/producer Kari Lizer. Solid pilot only gets better in the subsequent episodes previewed, with Louis-Dreyfus exhibiting a flair for physical comedy along with her snappy delivery in the role of angry divorcee. A perfect fit for the post-“Two and a Half Men” slot, CBS appears to have found the right woman to round out that hour.
After NBC’s contortions with “Watching Ellie,” as well as sitcom strikeouts by Michael Richards and Jason Alexander (twice), it was beginning to look as if the old “Seinfeld” gang couldn’t go home again. Yet Louis-Dreyfus has shed the attitude she brought to the last project, which teamed her with husband Brad Hall, and come back with gusto.
Two episodes bow Monday. In the opener, written by Lizer and directed by “Seinfeld” vet Andy Ackerman, Louis-Dreyfus plays Christine, a divorced mom who has a good relationship with ex-husband Richard (Clark Gregg), having just managed to wangle her young son, Ritchie (Trevor Gagnon), into a prestigious private school. Unfortunately, Christine doesn’t mesh with the Stepford moms, and an awkward situation gets worse after the other women espy Richard canoodling with a young woman (Emily Rutherford) in the parking lot.
The new girlfriend, it turns out, is also named Christine, which makes Louis-Dreyfus the older model. Yet that’s just the setup, mercifully, instead of another title in search of a show.
Racing through life in a constant state of agitation, Christine bustles from home to work at a health club (half-hour workouts for busy people) to Ritchie’s school, struggling to hold herself together. In that sense, the character possesses an underlying heart that doesn’t interfere with the comedy, including a hysterical second episode featuring Andy Richter, whom she picks up in a desperate attempt to prove that if Richard can move on, so can she.
While it’s primarily Louis-Dreyfus’ show, the rest of the cast is fine, particularly Gregg, who doesn’t come across as a bad guy, just an unthinking one.
What’s really refreshing amid this year’s uneven crop of laughers, though, is how conventional “Christine” turns out to be while still being flat-out funny. It’s a reminder, perhaps, that producers and nets have become overly preoccupied with single-camera gimmickry and improv when wedding a star to the right material can still click.
It’s early, of course, for Warner Bros. to start planning its NATPE party to celebrate off-network deals, but this is one of those rare series that arrives feeling like it’s been on the air for a while. Coupled with the net’s consistently endearing freshman “How I Met Your Mother” and Monday anchor “Men,” CBS is proving that the traditional sitcom — itself seduced and abandoned — still has some life left in it, too.