The two most promising sitcoms of this season center on the radiant power and very different comic styles of their female stars. Veronica's Closet gives us the Kirstie Alley we've been wanting trash talking and in charge, a strong, mature woman who's both vulnerable to men's charms and sick of their lies. Meanwhile, Dharma & Greg anoints Jenna Elfman as TV's official New Breath of Fresh Air. Risen from the rank ranks of last season's damp buddy comedy Townies, Elfman does the latest variation on ditsiness with the slit-eyed leer of a very funny flirt.
In Closet, Alley plays Veronica Chase, the owner of a (G-) string of lingerie shops and author of a best-selling romance-advice book. The joke of the show, of course, is that Veronica's own love life is a shambles: Her husband (Christopher McDonald) is an unfaithful scamp who nevertheless claims to still adore her. Veronica can't bring herself to dump him for good, which makes for a lot of the exasperated slow burns that Alley excels at.
At work in the Veronica's Closet offices, she's surrounded by a lively if utterly standard set of sitcom types that range from the first-rate (Sister Act's Kathy Najimy and Larry Sanders' Wallace Langham as excellently acerbic assistants) to the paltry (hunk of wood Dan Cortese as a PR man). Casting the rumbly, roly-poly Robert Prosky as Alley's father/chauffeur/shoulder-to-cry-on was a great idea, but the pilot makes their relationship too cutesily contrived to be funny.
In fact, the debut episode isn't quite the laugh machine you'd expect from a guaranteed winner wedged between Seinfeld and ER. Clearly, what Veronica's Closet has going for it above all else is Alley's bleep-'em-all blitheness, her gift for turning a tantrum into operatic hilarity. That's what we're in front of the set to see, and she delivers; now the writers, overseen by the producers who gave us Friends, need to get cracking with character development to match the one-liners. B+