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Dharma and Greg

Realism takes a holiday --- a long one --- in this loopy new romantic comedy pitting polar opposites. She's a dog-training, yoga-teaching free spirit. He's a button-down, anal-retentive Ivy League lawyer. It can't possibly work. Not in a million years. But this being TV, all they need is 23 minutes. And for all its implausibility, by the end of the "Dharma and Greg" pilot, you're smiling anyhow.

Realism takes a holiday — a long one — in this loopy new romantic comedy pitting polar opposites. She’s a dog-training, yoga-teaching free spirit. He’s a button-down, anal-retentive Ivy League lawyer. It can’t possibly work. Not in a million years. But this being TV, all they need is 23 minutes. And for all its implausibility, by the end of the “Dharma and Greg” pilot, you’re smiling anyhow.

With the luminous Jenna Elfman (“Townies”) leading the charge, the San Francisco-based series largely succeeds because writer-producers Dottie Dartland and Chuck Lorre throw caution to the wind and allow the show to sprint at its own giddy pace. And with a master director like James Burrows calling the shots, an irresistible edge of cuteness seeps through.

Elfman, who combines the sexiness and comic instincts of a metaphysical Tea Leoni, stars as Dharma Finkelstein, the passionate, impulsive product of a bohemian mother (Mimi Kennedy) who paints in the nude and a hippie dad (Alan Rachins of “L.A. Law”) who bashes the establishment for sport.

When Dharma sees Greg (Thomas Gibson, the hunky “Chicago Hope” alum) getting off a subway train, it’s love at second sight. They’d already had a moment in the exact same spot 20 years before.

And now she’s not going to let her unlikely soul mate get away. So she surprises him at his office. Their courtship lasts a matter of hours. Before 24 of them pass, they’re in Reno getting married.

Thickening the plot are the disparate reactions to news of the marriage by Dharma’s hippie parents and Greg’s stiff-as-a-board, pate-and-Pellegrino folks (perfectly played by Susan Sullivan and Mitchell Ryan).

Elfman is being bred as thebreakout star, and she has the spirited presence to make it happen. Fast. She’s a bombshell who carries the payload effortlessly. Gibson is more or less along for the ride as straight-man, but is adequate enough; together, their chemistry is a force to behold.

A larger question surrounds where “Dharma & Greg” goes from here. The opposites thing can quickly slip into a one-joke trap. And the opening stanza is awfully preoccupied with sex for an 8:30, kiddies-aren’t-in-bed-yet half-hour. But the pilot remains so lively that it sweeps you into its nutty whirl anyway.

Tech credits are all dandy.

Dharma and Greg

Wed. (24), 8:30-9 p.m., ABC

  • Production: Filmed in Los Angeles by Chuck Lorre Prods. and 4 to 6 Foot Prods. in association with 20th Century Fox TV. Executive producers, Dottie Dartland, Chuck Lorre, Erwin More, Brian Medavoy; co-executive producer, Bill Prady; producer, Kevin Berg; consulting producer, Don Foster; writers, Dartland, Lorre; director, James Burrows; director of photography, Richard Brown; production designer, John Shaffner.
  • Crew: Editor, Peter Chakos; music, Dennis C. Brown; sound, Bruce Peters; casting, Nikki Valko, Gillian O'Neill.
  • With: <B>Cast:</B> Jenna Elfman, Thomas Gibson, Shae D'lyn, Susan Sullivan, Alan Rachins, Joel Murray, Mimi Kennedy, Mitchell Ryan.