If you like Murphy Brown, the same sensibility guides Love and War, the new show that now airs right after it. Murphy creator Diane English has come up with this romantic comedy starring Jay Thomas (Murphy’s loudmouth boyfriend Jerry Gold) and L.A. Law’s Susan Dey. Thomas plays rough-and-tumble New York newspaper columnist Jack Stein; right away, I don’t believe a tough guy like this would call his column ”The Stein Way” — it’s an indication of how annoyingly whimsical this show can get. And the actors speak directly to the camera a lot, which is also too cutesy.
But pretty quickly, Love and War defeats these weaknesses. Dey plays Wallis ”Wally” Porter, a restaurateur who has just divorced her actor husband, played by Michael Nouri. Wally lost her eatery in the divorce settlement, and in the premiere she buys the seedy bar in which Jack hangs out. That’s how they meet; by the end of the episode Jack is asking, ”Your condom or mine?” Like the new show on the other side of Murphy, the John Ritter-Markie Post comedy, Hearts Afire, Love and War treats us like grown-ups, but silly grown-ups. From the tootling clarinet music and Manhattan scenes in the opening credits to the pungent one-liners scattered throughout (Wally: ”I’m now the owner of a place where old flies come to die”), it’s clear that English wants to do a weekly Woody Allen comedy for TV, and darned if every scene in this debut doesn’t have at least a couple of solid laughs. More power to English if she can sustain that level of quality.
But with its clichéd title, nothing-new premise, and the flat monotones that characterize the voices of both of our otherwise charming stars, Love and War could quickly become a cleverly written bore. I’m assuming the amiable oddballs who populate the bar in the opener — like Ray (Joel Murray), a garbageman whose philosophy of life always seems to reduce to a metaphor involving maggots — will become strong supporting players. And that’s good, because Love and War looks like the kind of show that will rise or fall on the strength of its ensemble. B-