Screen Savors: Not quite master of her domain

Julia Louis-Dreyfus is out to beat the Seinfeld curse by going all-comedy midstream.

julia-lewis dreyfus 88 (photo credit: )
julia-lewis dreyfus 88
(photo credit: )
Julia Louis-Dreyfus is out to beat the Seinfeld curse by going all-comedy midstream - not that there's anything wrong with that. But in doing so, her new series The New Adventures of Old Christine (YES Stars, Thursdays, 21:05) finds her old Elaine character stuck inside a suburban mom's body, struggling to get out. Like her fellow Seinfeld co-stars whose careers stalled after leaving the Show About Nothing, Louis-Dreyfus has also had some pitfalls since leaving Jerry and the coffee shop, among them Watching Ellie. But this time around she's done better: the pilot was relatively snappy, and the good news is that Louis-Dreyfus herself is still a superb actress and comedienne. The bad news is the set-up: she's divorced mom Christine Campbell, living in the California suburbs with her brother Matthew, raising her adorable - way too adorable - son Richie (did someone say Mary Tyler Moore?) and trying to get back into the dating scene after discovering her ex-husband Richard (they're not too good with names on this show) having a smooch fest with his new hottie in the parking lot of the fancy new school their son's just started. Turns out the new girlfriend's name is also Christine - as Louis-Dreyfus's character is informed by two hysterical, ditzy blondes whose kids are in her son's class - hence the title, with the ex now becoming "the old Christine." The problem is that Louis-Dreyfus is so much better than her material, you feel like finding her an exit. Her slapstick skills are still sharp, as when she enters the gym she runs - a 30-second workout place for women - and struggles mightily to kick off a sock and pull off her jacket. She's also a great liar, as when she tries to convince her ex that she's dating a lumberjack. "When a lumberjack loves, he loves ya," she explains. That's just it - she's so good that you want her to be able to go a little crazier, as she could when working in the no-holds-barred Seinfeld arena. And it hurts a bit to see her stuck in a family-oriented comedy that comes with feel-good tinkly guitar music. Kramer would never approve. Still, the script's just good enough to keep viewers interested. So we get Christine on her failed marriage, which she says "was like a game of hide and seek, where both of us hid and nobody seeked... or had sex." Taken to his new snobby school, Richie looks around and asks Christine: "Where are the black kids?" "There was one in the brochure... I'm sure he's around somewhere," she responds. Even the standard divorced woman gags are pretty funny, as when Christine muses: "I haven't even contemplated dating yet - I'm still wearing my maternity underwear." Ultimately, like the character that she plays in this sitcom (which has been picked up for another year, meaning Louis-Dreyfus is one step ahead of the curse), this talented actress is "just doing the best I can here," as she tells Richie, and like him, we say: "OK." There's no rule that says Louis-Dreyfus must remain Elaine Bennis forever, even though she probably will to most TV fans. Unlike the Seinfeld crew, she's got a life, and while her new sitcom may not make her the master of her TV comedy domain, she's still far ahead of most of the competition.