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TV Review: 'First Years' guilty of slaying the imagination

Monday, March 19, 2001

By Rob Owen, Post-Gazette TV Editor

There's a scene in NBC's "First Years" (premiering tonight at 9) that perfectly captures the one-track mindset of this new drama about young lawyers.

"Are you mad or frustrated?" Riley (Sydney Tamiia Poitier) asks Anna (Samantha Mathis) in the series' second episode.

"Frustrated," Anna replies.

"Sex or work-related?" Riley asks.

"First Years"
When: 9 tonight on NBC.

Starring: Samantha Mathis, Sydney Tamiia Poitier, James Roday, Mackenzie Astin


It's an apropos question, because in "First Years" the characters have no lives aside from work and sex. If they're not filing briefs, they're taking them off. (Each of the first two episodes includes references to a character who isn't wearing boxers or briefs or panties of any sort.)

Set in San Francisco, a quartet of attorneys in their first year out of law school work for the same firm and live in the same house. Talk about togetherness. Only Anna lives on her own, presumably to save her one-night-stands the embarrassment of meeting a house full of strangers at breakfast. Not that she could introduce her most recent sex partner -- she doesn't remember his name.

One of Anna's conquests was old friend Miles (Ken Marino), who wanted an actual relationship, but she pushed him away. Now she's having second thoughts.

Riley and Egg (James Roday) are the show's other couple. They're stable and loving toward one another, but strangely five years into their relationship the subject of having children is just now up for discussion. Plus, Egg's eccentric wardrobe wouldn't fly in most firms.

Warren (Mackenzie Astin) is the show's odd-man out. He's gay, keeps to himself and feels like an outsider even among his old friends. No wonder. In the second episode no one remembers being in classes with him during law school.

This group amnesia is patently ridiculous (and symptomatic of lazy writing), but Warren's loneliness is the sole story in the second episode with any emotional resonance.

Tonight's premiere also features a single plot worth caring about: Riley handles an adoption case in which the black mother doesn't want her child adopted by a white couple. Riley's mom is white, her father is black, so the case leads to contemplative soul searching.

That's it -- one story per episode worth watching. The rest of "First Years" is filled with characters prattling glibly about sex or bantering about sexual innuendo. You'd think well-educated lawyers would worry more about getting slapped with a sexual harassment suit.

"First Years" is based upon "This Life," a British TV drama that will be rerun from its first episode on BBC America beginning tomorrow at 11:30 p.m. "This Life" is superior to "First Years" in nearly every way. Its characters have depth and complexity, their problems and relationships have meaning.

What do we get in "First Years"? A law firm partner (Eric Schaeffer) cut from the wacky, politically incorrect mold of Richard Fish on "Ally McBeal." He hires a toady and orders said toady to berate him on a regular basis.

"First Years"? Try "Worst Years."

"Secrets of San Simeon" (9 p.m., Travel Channel)

Patricia Hearst takes viewers on a two-hour tour of her grandfather's castle in San Simeon, Calif. Unfortunately, the second hour repeats much of what's in the first hour, which makes it superfluous and easy to tune away from.

"Secrets of San Simeon"
When: 9 tonight on Travel Channel.

Hosted by: Patricia Hearst


In the first hour, "Secrets of San Simeon" is a decent travelogue that takes viewers beyond the attraction's main tour and into some areas not open to the public, including the Hearst ranch home that's still used by the family today.

The program's main focus is on La Casa Grande (the largest structure at San Simeon), its construction and the Hollywood celebrities who partied there.

"Secrets" also includes background on famed media mogul William Randolph Hearst, Patricia's grandfather. In the second hour, Hearst attempts to debunk the myth of her grandfather as portrayed in "Citizen Kane" by Orson Welles (she says Welles was "determined to throw the biggest bricks through the biggest windows").

"Secrets of San Simeon" is less successful as a biography than it is as a tour of America's most magnificent estate.

You can reach Rob Owen at rowen@post-gazette.com Post questions or comments to www.post-gazette.com/tv under TV Forum.

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