Jenna Elfman hasn’t lost any of her Dharma charm, but her new CBS comedy otherwise feels like very old news — an inoffensive but not particularly distinguished half-hour about a career-driven woman trying to introduce romance into her juggling act. Not bad as pilots go, but it’s hard to envision the plot for episode No. 3.
Not to be confused with “Judging Amy,” “Courting Alex” casts Elfman as a high-powered lawyer whose firm is headed by her crusty dad (Dabney Coleman), and even he would like to see his daughter lighten up a little. “You think too damn much,” he tells Alex, bristling at her lack of interest in a somewhat starched co-worker (Josh Stamberg).
Yep, Alex is not exactly a beacon of spontaneity — at least until she encounters the handsome Scott (Josh Randall, who can also be seen being handsome on NBC’s “Scrubs”). Although they’re at odds in a dispute over a major deal, Alex is unsettled by Scott’s overtures, unable to resist the old-fashioned chemistry.
Having played a free spirit in “Dharma & Greg” (and more recently delivered a grand guest appearance on “Two and a Half Men”), the lanky Elfman goes the buttoned-up route here. Nevertheless, she enjoys some amusing moments with the ever-reliable Coleman, and Jillian Bach is a nice foil as her 5-foot-nothing assistant.
Mostly, though, “Alex” recycles the formula of any number of romantic sitcoms (“Almost Perfect” comes to mind) focusing on women balancing their professional and love lives. As such, its fate boils down to how deftly the producers can slowly unpeel the relationship, and whether Elfman can generate enough star power to keep the lights on. (Based on CBS’ initial promo campaign that featured her dancing around like an unusually tall sprite, this must be the best thing the network thinks there is to recommend it.)
Nevertheless, the show has an opportunity to successfully bridge the gap between the aforementioned “Men” and “CSI: Miami,” where the so-so “Out of Practice” has held its own and ABC quickly crapped out with its sitcom alternative. Yet given that this is CBS’ most valuable comedy real estate, it’s worth looking ahead to a far more promising half-hour, the Julia Louis-Dreyfus vehicle “The New Adventures of Old Christine,” which is being held in reserve until the spring.
Then again, networks and their sitcoms are subject to unpredictable verdicts in the court of public opinion, where “Alex” can only hope that a majority of the “Men” crowd finds in its favor.