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'Embassy' mildly enjoyable

Sunday, March 10, 2002

By Rob Owen, Post-Gazette TV Editor

Last spring, with ratings for "Ally McBeal" starting to decline, Fox set out to find a similar replacement series. It's first choice: "Emma Brody," the story of a twentysomething flighty American who gets a job as vice consul at the American Embassy in London and gets herself into romantic entanglements, none of which, presumably, involve a dancing baby.


"The American Embassy"

When: 9 p.m. tomorrow on Fox.

Starring: Arija Bareikis


Flash forward a year: Ratings for "Ally" are down significantly and anything seeming similar is no longer a smart bet. Plus, with the Sept. 11 tragedy, patriotism is in. So "Emma Brody" became "The American Embassy," the resemblance of its title to the Aaron Sorkin-penned 1995 movie "The American President" is probably intentional.

Production on episodes following the pilot began Sept. 18, so producers chose to broaden the show's scope beyond Emma's world view, which is played heavily in the pilot.

"There's a direct correlation between temptation, humiliation and self-doubt ... the holy trinity of self-loathing," Emma says in a voice-over while writing a letter to her sister back home.

If that's not "Ally"-esque, I don't know what is.

Still, I suspect the mildly enjoyable "American Embassy" will appeal to some viewers who identify with the travails of this new but somewhat familiar character. As played by newcomer Arija Bareikis, she's sympathetic, but nowhere near the age she was said to be in the original pilot (in the version that will air, Emma's been made 29, up from 26).

On her first day, Emma makes out with a CIA agent (David Cubitt) in a jetliner's restroom, deals with a guy who gets naked and stages a sit-in at the Embassy (played by the actor who is the father of Miranda's baby on "Sex and the City"), and befriends a girl who's part of an American custody battle (played by the actress who is Dr. Greene's juvenile delinquent daughter on "ER").

Naked guy becomes Emma's sounding board/shrink. When she has a bad day, he offers up these bon mots: "Living is about making mistakes, Emma. Dying is about wishing you'd made more."

Filmed in London, the scenery is a welcome change from the New York-Los Angeles-Vancouver settings we're accustomed to seeing. The show's look is one of its most commendable features.

Tomorrow's premiere has an ending that hits from out of nowhere and doesn't fit the dewy-eyed story that plays out in the majority of the episode. Viewers could be forgiven for thinking it's a post-Sept. 11 attempt at manipulation, but it was actually part of the original pilot.

The plot twist will be dealt with in future episodes, producers say, and it fits the show's new, broader canvas, where a war against terrorism is no longer fiction.

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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