Screensavors: 'Friends' meets 'The Office'

What do you get when you mix the corporate-world comedy of, say, Just Shoot Me, The Office and Working with the buddy-show genre of Friends, That 70s Showand Seinfeld? Well, something like Fox Network's new The Loop (YES Stars, debuts Wednesday at 9:05 p.m.), a hybrid comedy based in the Windy City that almost blows away in the breeze. The producers have obviously been watching what's popular, since the story of Sam Sullivan (the extremely likable Bret Harrison of both That 70s Show and Grounded for Life) - a young, single corporate executive for an aviation company - is so clearly derivative of most of those shows. And in case you weren't sure that the show's based in Chicago, the opening episode features Tony Bennett singing Chicago, Chicago. Sam lives with his lunatic brother Sully (Sully Sullivan - gosh, that must've been hard to come up with), whose idea of fun is shaving bald strips on Sam's scalp while he's sleeping, and two luscious women whose relationship to the guys is somewhat unclear. What is clear is that Sam is completely nuts about Piper (the brunette), while the blonde Lizzy is… a dumb blonde. The show's creators must've known they were doing more than a little plagiarizing of themes here, so The Loop's got its own angle - cartoon "bubbles" that appear at various points in the show explaining a character's traits, a situation, etc. So when we first meet Sam, a bubble flashes: (Our hero: young ad exec) and when Sully jumps out the first-floor window and crashes to the ground we get: (Mom smoked a lot of grass during pregnancy). While some of these are cute, to us it was more of a sign that the writers couldn't cram enough development into the actual script. Naturally, young Sam is way ahead of the field at work, where he's the favorite of goofy boss Russ (Philip Baker Hall of Everwood), who takes him on the back of his motorcycle and marvels at his work while calling him "a little shaved titmouse" and playfully accuses him of having "a retarded squirrel look, which you've nailed like a $2 whore." Russ's salty lines help keep the show from being yet another just-out-of-college comedy, but the true ace in the hole is Mimi Rogers, the former Mrs. Tom Cruise, who totally steals the show. Rogers plays Meryl, another of Sam's superiors, who makes absolutely no bones about her feelings for her young prot g . Walking past him in the office, she says in her great husky voice; "Damn, you smell sexable. What is that, J-Lo for men?" Later, trying to feign disinterest, she says: "Sexual harassment has no place in this office. Count to 40 and meet me in the stairwell." Too bad the non-office part of Sam's life takes up so much of the show. It's Piper's birthday and she's dying to have her boyfriend Marco fly in from LA. Guess what - Sam can arrange a ticket, but of course Sam loves Piper, who is clueless about how our hero feels about her. Then Piper's suddenly dumping Marco. Then she's not. Ultimately, the whole storyline is really just a set-up for a gag. Indeed, the girls' characters are shallower than your average kiddy pool. Chicago's been the scene of some great comedies in the past, most notably one of our favorites, Perfect Strangers. In fact, the two guys + two girls format was used there too, with the hero working at a newspaper rather than an airline. But it's time to graduate beyond blonde bimbo roommates to something a little more sophisticated. And it's unlikely The Loop would've done as well as it has if it had not benefited from being given the greatest scheduling lead-in of all time: the show aired right after American Idol on Fox during its first season. If you can wince your way through the love-life sections and focus only on Sam's corporate world, where Rogers and Baker Hall run wild, The Loop is worth visiting. In fact, reports indicate that Fox execs feel the same way we do, and are taking the focus away from the apartment and putting it more on the office craziness. That would be good news for the show, which is still awaiting a launch date for its second season. Otherwise, watch The Office followed by a Friends rerun - it'll have the same effect.