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Men in Trees

Like peanut butter and chocolate, two TV taste treats -- the fish out of water, and the therapist/advice columnist who can't follow her own advice -- get jumbled together in one bland confection that plunks Anne Heche into the Alaskan wilderness. Soft and chewy, "Men in Trees" is a tepid version of "Northern Exposure" with a romantic flair, scheduled after this Tuesday preview where only lonely hearts are apt to find it, unless Heche's star wattage unexpectedly ignites some Friday-night lights.

Like peanut butter and chocolate, two TV taste treats — the fish out of water, and the therapist/advice columnist who can’t follow her own advice — get jumbled together in one bland confection that plunks Anne Heche into the Alaskan wilderness. Soft and chewy, “Men in Trees” is a tepid version of “Northern Exposure” with a romantic flair, scheduled after this Tuesday preview where only lonely hearts are apt to find it, unless Heche’s star wattage unexpectedly ignites some Friday-night lights.

Heche is a Chicago relationship expert who — surprise — discovers her boyfriend is cheating on her. So an Alaskan book tour suddenly becomes an extended search for self in a gruff yet idyllic little hamlet where men vastly outnumber women and the relationship coach might discover a thing or two. (Clearly, the “Seinfeld” “no hugging, no learning” rule does not apply.)

As Marin, Heche is the classic patrician snob, surrounded by lumberjack types who sleep all night and work all day. That includes friendly bartender Ben (Abraham Benrubi) and dreamy-looking wildlife expert Jack (James Tupper), who insists he’s not interested in picking her up, though through an unconvincing turn of events winds up huddled together with her shirtless in episode one.

“The odds are good, but the goods are odd,” explains bar gal Theresa (Sarah Strange), who, along with gold-hearted hooker Sara (Suleka Mathew) — a beauty who yearns to escape the “hospitality business” — opens the new arrival’s jaundiced eyes to small-town wisdom.

Any show with a character listed as “Elvis the raccoon” can’t be all bad, and with “Sex and the City” alum Jenny Bicks and director James Mangold (“Walk the Line”) on board, there’s a strong creative pedigree. Yet with the quirky tone and lead character’s voiceover, this all feels a little too much like “Anne’s Anatomy,” with neither the wit nor whimsy necessary to sustain a concept that would likely fare better as a romantic comedy feature than an ongoing series.

Through no fault of its own, “Men in Trees” is also one of two ABC series that hinge on a similar thread of the screwed-up relationship pro, the other being “Help Me, Help You,” with Ted Danson as a slightly daft psychologist.

Granted, it’s been 16 years since “Exposure” became a summertime hit, so perhaps the statute of limitations has lapsed and it’s time for another quirky TV series set in Alaska. The more pertinent question is whether Marin is the kind of protagonist with which women can relate — a sort of latter-day “Ally McBeal” — because it’s hard to envision many men hanging around to see which way the wind blows this wispy premise, the title notwithstanding.

Men in Trees

ABC, Tues. Sept. 12, 10:02 P.M.

  • Production: Filmed in Vancouver by Tree Line Film and Perkins Street Prods. in association with Warner Bros. Television. Executive producers, Jenny Bicks, James Mangold, Cathy Konrad; producer, Stuart Besser; director, Mangold; writer, Bicks.
  • Crew: Camera, Phedon Papamichael; editors, Michael McCusker, John Murray; music, Peter Himmelman; production designer, Brent Thomas; casting, Lisa Beach, Sarah Katzman, Sean Cossey, Stuart Aikins. Running time: 60 MIN.
  • With: Marin Frist - Anne Heche Ben - Abraham Benrubi Annie - Emily Bergl Jane - Seana Kofoed Sara - Suleka Mathew Patrick - Derek Richardson Theresa - Sarah Strange Jack - James Tupper Buzz - John Amos