“I don’t want to be the Marcia Brady of the new millennium!” declares a petulant Sarah Reeves Merrin (a.k.a. Jennifer Love Hewitt) toward the end of the pie-eyed pilot of Hewitt’s notoriously troubled “Party of Five” spinoff “Time of Your Life.” OK, Jen, you win. Instead, you can be the reigning fox of Fox Broadcasting. Hewitt’s performance in the opener of this spectacularly self-indulgent drama is predictably, uh, inelegant. But to glance at the winsome young starlet with her puppy-dog peepers and wholesome allure, one instantly suspects that Hewitt isn’t here for her acting chops, anyway. It’s all about seduction. Surprise!
Hewitt regularly sends the adorableness meter soaring off the scale, all right. But her rendering of the alternately contrived and poignant teleplay from creator/ exec producers Chris Keyser and Amy Lippman resembles one long run-on sentence. Her forced sense of perpetual frenzy seems to create its own unique headwind. At least the considerable scenery that Hewitt chews appears to be low-fat. Keyser and Lippman liked the first “Time of Your Life” pilot so much that they scrapped it outright and went back to the drawing board, delaying the show’s debut nearly into November sweeps. This isn’t the most effective way to breed confidence in a show that already felt like a concession to the nubile Hewitt’s rising star as a budding sex symbol — particularly after her newly prominent breasts were seen dominating print ads for the theatrical “I Still Know What You Did Last Summer.”
Fox Entertainment prexy Doug Herzog was concerned enough about the perception that he included a letter bearing his name with review cassettes sent out to TV critics. In it, he noted that he was “excited to have the show on our fall schedule … and we believe (this) is a promising Fox drama…” This is evidently to distinguish “Time of Your Life” from the new dramas that Fox puts on its schedule and does not find promising.
The revised pilot is watchable enough, but that’s due mostly to a sharp perf from the charismatic Johnathon Schaech (“Houdini”) as Maguire, a session musician who runs a funky East Village hangout in New York City. The premiere finds Maguire meeting and pretty much instantly falling for the gloriously idealistic Sarah (Hewitt), who has just ditched her orphan family’s San Francisco digs for Gotham.
Why New York? It’s the place that seemingly every young, single TV character heads to find themselves, the theory being that it’s easier to clear one’s head in an overpopulated, hyperstimulated environment. Oh yes, Sarah has one other key goal: to track down her biological father. This mission makes for the pilot’s most maudlin, awkward interludes. Wearing a slinky dress, she approaches the first guy she meets and believes to be her father in an upscale men’s washroom. Before the first hour is through, Sarah will have cast winsome looks in the directions of virtually every nontransient in Manhattan. Among those she befriends are an aspiring actress named Romy (Jennifer Garner); a wacky bohemian apartment building manager (Pauley Perrette); and the aforementioned Maguire, who looks like a pretty good catch, but not as good as the womanizing hunk she and Romy spy on, voyeur style.
Helmer Michael Engler (who is also co-exec producer) guides the ensemble — which in the pilot includes Rosie O’Donnell in an unbilled cameo — with a sensitive hand, perhaps too sensitive in the case of Hewitt. She manages to be lovely in the pilot even while drunk and vomiting on an NYPD patrolman’s shoes. A new era of alcoholic chic may be at hand. “Party of Fifth,” anyone?
Tech credits are all tops.