THE SHOW "Hot in Cleveland"
WHAT IT'S ABOUT Three pals are - as the gentler and more polite phrase goes - "women of a certain age" who wish to escape the confines of Hollywood phonydom. So recently divorced Melanie (Valerie Bertinelli) decides to follow No. 122 in the book of "200 Things You Should Do Before You Die": Paris or bust. Along for the ride is Victoria (Wendie Malick), a soap actress, and Joy (Jane Leeves), a hairstylist - OK, she does eyebrows - to the stars. But a plane malfunction forces a landing in Cleveland, where they head to a local bar. They get ogled by the guys - "I haven't felt like a piece of meat in so long," explains Joy, gratefully - and decide to stay in town. They rent an old Victorian that comes with a catch: Elka (Betty White), the saucy housekeeper.
MY SAY "Hot in Cleveland" is a by-the-numbers sitcom with a couple of laughs, an inoffensive premise and four seasoned actresses who make the material much better than it is. But what makes "Cleveland" so notable is a certain star of an advanced age. White hasn't had a regular role on a sitcom in a decade (dating back to the lamentable "Ladies Man"), which is one of those eye-rubbing stats more a comment on the state of the biz than anything else. White is one of the great comic actresses in TV history - a marvel of industry and skill, or as her pal Grant Tinker once joked, "She can play anything from a nun to a trollop, and has." For connoisseurs of Betty, she brings "The Mary Tyler Moore Show's" Sue Ann Nivens' nasty to the role of Elka instead of "Golden Girl's" Rose Nylund's nice.
BOTTOM LINE White's timing is impeccable, and her deadpan delivery flawless. Yet there's something almost bittersweet here. While she could defy the odds, White, 88, may not have many more series' roles left in this wonder of a career. For that reason, may "Hot in Cleveland" and Elka stick around for a long, long time.