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'Abby' Plays It Smart, Not Silly

Turns out she's more than a name. Sydney Poitier might

get a role because she's legendary actor Sidney's daughter - and because she's

a sleek and likable cutie - but then she's gotta make it stick. UPN is airing

two episodes of her sitcom "Abby" this premiere week, after which the

second-generation Poitier should find herself firmly attached to a sizable

viewership.

The set-up sounds absurd, but the execution makes it fly. She's an

ambitious young TV sports producer whose boyfriend is a self-absorbed strutter.

After two years, she's had enough and dumps him but keeps sharing their

fabulous San Francisco apartment. Could couch potatoes outline the rest in

their sleep? She tries to make him jealous. He tries to sleep around. They sit

across the breakfast table naked behind strategically placed cereal boxes,

trying not to look. Oh, and then there's the sports anchor who's got a

heavy-duty thing for her, and the older sister who's loud and lusty. Round out

the black-cast ensemble with a yokel-y white boss, and you'd have it all. So

they do.

But there's charm in both the writing and playing of "Abby," and a keen

sense of the ways people behave. Those ways can be foolish without turning the

people into fools. Series creators Mitchel Katlin and Nat Bernstein showed the

same light touch on "The Gregory Hines Show" for CBS a few years back, never

hammering home a situation or pounding out a punchline. The family on that show

felt real, and so do Poitier's sensitively proud young woman and Kadeem

Hardison's immaturely narcissistic boyfriend, who effectively straddles the

line between vanity and villainy. It doesn't take long to grasp why either of

these contrary types might find the other's charms irresistible.

The show's instincts are good in other small ways, making up for the broad

strokes of that obvious outline and some overactive plotting. Tangie Ambrose

("Brutally Normal") tones down the sister's brassiness, and Randy J. Goodwin

(Davis on "Girlfriends") is warm without being wimpy as the unrequited wooer.

They manage to remain real even when the scripts teeter toward a high tacky

quotient - discussing the Boogie Barn men's club, a peekaboo thong or a body

part nicknamed Mr. Butterworth.

But the show is named after Poitier's character for a reason. She's upright

without being uptight. She's got a bouncy, playful streak. She's down-to-earth

relatable. She isn't cynical. (Imagine!) She's a Mary Richards for our time -

what Mary Tyler Moore's character might have been if she'd been allowed to have

a sex life. Where the 1970s would never go that far, our decade too often

overplays its "free" hand. "Abby" aims to hit a clever middle. Getting as close

to the mark as this is no small achievement.

REVIEW

ABBY. Cute TV sports producer can't decide whether to kick or cuddle her

egocentric ex-boyfriend turned roommate. UPN sitcom premieres tonight at 9:30

on WWOR/9. Second episode airs Tuesday at 9:30 p.m. before series moves to its

regular slot of Tuesday at 9 p.m. on Jan. 14.

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