The first time I went to Los Angeles, I hated it; the second time around, I loved it. I can think of no greater compliment to pay the uncannily L.A. sitcom ”It’s like, you know…” than to say I had exactly the same reaction to it: Watched the pilot and detested it as a sunny Seinfeld; watched the second episode, and began to get into its funny, actually quite distinctive groove. By the third show I was ready to move into the main characters’ bungalow and ask Lauren (My So-Called Life’s A.J. Langer) for a massage.
Which would have been perfectly above-board: Lauren is a professional masseuse — and, in creator (and former Seinfeld coexec producer) Peter Mehlman’s nicely homogenized imagination, she’s also a process server, a ditz, a babe, and the object of lust for the series’ central character, Arthur (Chris Eigeman). Arthur is just the sort of recently transplanted East Coaster I and so many others have been over the years: people who despise L.A.’s showbiz-centric view of the world, its overreliance upon and pride in cars, and most fundamentally to a certain character type, its sun. Sunniness, to an Arthur type — dark-haired, dark-minded, dark-loving — becomes, in L.A., the enemy as much as it is for a vampire. Sunniness, for this sort of person, is deeply depressing.
How nice for Arthur, therefore, that there are distractions such as Lauren and his best friend, Robbie (Steven Eckholdt), a far more contented transplant and a schemer who’s making money televising pay-per-view High Holy Day services under the title Pay-Per-Jew.
Arthur, arriving in Hollywood to stay with Robbie and write a book about a New Yorker who hates the sunny city, is introduced to two friends Robbie has made in L.A.: Shrug (Evan Handler), a hairless heir to independent wealth, and Jennifer Grey, the Dirty Dancing star played with remarkable self-deprecation by Jennifer Grey. Grey is unrecognizable from the Dirty days, thanks to subsequent cosmetic surgery (about which she takes an awful lot of ribbing in the premiere). The ribbing, in fact, becomes more distracting than her new face (she and the characters refer repeatedly to her nose job, but — since she’s allowed the writers to bring up the subject — I must observe that the whole shape of her face has changed). You almost feel sorry for Grey; you think, Gee, was she this desperate for a job that she’s essentially admitting she went too far with facial reconstruction, turning it into a lucrative, ironic TV joke?
Anyway, you can probably get past Grey after the first episode, and hone in on the others. Robbie and Shrug engage in a lot of non-sequitur small talk that’s blatantly Seinfeldian: piddly debates about where the little-used letter q should appear in the alphabet; poor-taste whimsy about how Germany should change its name to ”Aspen” to remake its poor World War II image. But once you grant that Mehlman was responsible for a good chunk of Seinfeld’s distinctive conversational byplay, ”It’s like, you know…” transcends rip-off status to become a satisfying post-Jerry development. Besides, the dialogue sounds to me as though Mehlman is as much influenced by the albums of Randy Newman — with their contradictory mood of I-love-L.A. despair — as he is by Seinfeld.
And Mehlman has a very strong, distinctive leading man in Eigeman, whose perpetual frown and sneered-pucker mouth have managed to convey intelligence, not belligerence, in Whit Stillman’s WASP- twit movies Metropolitan and 1998’s The Last Days of Disco. As he’s proved on the big screen, Eigeman is a deft ensemble player who scores with his own punchlines but also makes his costars look good.
”It’s like, you know…” is as gimmicky as its lowercase, conversational title. (In every episode, for example, someone — a TV newscaster, an airline pilot — utters the title phrase.) And like its numerous car jokes, the show traffics in L.A. and Manhattan cliches. (”Don’t ask me anything about America,” says Arthur, ”I don’t know anything about it — I’m from New York.”) But its gimmicks are bolstered by vividly drawn protagonists and the show has a real understanding for the way L.A. can make you feel great — full of juice — while sucking you dry. Rather than saying it’s like, you know…good, I shall deem it verging on excellent. B+