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Sitcoms for 20-Somethings / A hip-hoppy 'Friends' and a ho-hummy one

REVIEW

AS IF and THE RANDOM YEARS. From UPN, a pair of half-hour series, both

about 20-somethings, but very different in style. Tonight at 9 and 9:30,

respectively, on WWOR/9.

'AS IF" COULD be likened to a soap-opera variation of "Friends" if the NBC

hit hadn't been coming on like a soap itself lately. Then, too, "As If" has a

restless, MTV-like visual style and, instead of studio-audience laughs, a

hip-hoppy soundtrack that almost never stops, even when the characters are

conversing. So it's really not that much like "Friends" except that, well, OK,

it does have six regular characters - three male, three female - and they live

in a big city, and they're preoccupied with sex, and they're about the ages

Ross, Rachel, Chandler, Monica, Phoebe and Joey were when "Friends" first

appeared in the previous century.

If the preceding sounds a little discombobulated, hey, "As If" will do that

to you if you're closer to retirement age than puberty. It's TV aimed at the

generation that supposedly thrives on media overload. It is to situation comedy

what those informational "crawls" are to TV news. It's hard to imagine anyone

over 30 watching "As If" without the aid of Dramamine. Frankly, it's hard to

imagine anyone over 20 watching it at all.

"As If" is an American version of a British series that's already in its

second season over there. Presumably, something was lost in translation. It's

about as funny as drunk friends when you aren't, and the serious dialogue makes

"The Young and the Restless" sound like an Edward Albee play.

The debut is mainly focused on dorky but boundlessly optimistic Jamie

(Derek Hughes). He's determined to bed beautiful Nikki (Adrienne Wilkinson), a

tenacious tease who has no qualms about using him to attract a sexier,

love-'em- leave-'em type who also hangs out at their favorite bar. Their friend

Sooz (Emily Corrie), who's more level- headed than her multicolored dreadlocks

might suggest, spends most of the episode trying to warn Nikki she's going to

get loved and left. Meanwhile, Sasha (Tracie Thoms) is pouting because her

boyfriend, Rob (Chris Engen), didn't show up to cheer her on at a VJ audition.

Sixth friend Alex (Robin Dunne) has little to do in the opener, though he

will be coming to grips with being gay in future episodes. Hughes makes a

lasting impression - in an irritating, over-the-top way - and Corrie has a

depth that suggests she'll get a better show after this one is discarded. And

even if UPN's schedule weren't due for overhauling by the new owner,

Viacom/CBS, that probably won't be long in coming.

"The Random Years" is a much more conventional half- hour. In fact, it

recalls some of the sitcoms that have flopped in NBC' post-"Friends" time slot.

It centers on the post-collegiate life of three buddies who share the

crummiest, phoniest-looking New York apartment seen on TV since the days of

Ralph and Alice Kramden.

In the opener, the scenes shift back and forth between a restaurant, where

Alex (Will Friedle) and Wiseman (Joshua Ackerman) are having disastrous dates,

and the apartment, where Todd (Sean Murray) and a temp Alex hired to help him

with his Web site business end up playing a variation of strip poker that

revolves around a popular PBS series instead of cards. Don't laugh. Or, rather,

do. Thanks to Murray's effortless slacker charm, the "strip 'Antiques

Roadshow'" bit is the only thing that saves "The Random Years" from being even

more forgettable than "Inside Schwartz."

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