As NBC”s new sitcom “Watching Ellie” begins, we see Julia Louis-Dreyfus standing half-naked in her bedroom, repeatedly yelling “Take it” at the mirror, each time with increasing intensity. Inside the framework of the show, this scene has multiple meanings. On a literal sense, it is a reference to a cue that she will later give her band to start playing. Figuratively, she is expressing her current dissatisfaction with not only her band, but also her life in general. However, an argument could be made for an implication outside the context of the show. After the ill-fated attempts made by her former colleagues in their post-“Seinfeld” careers, Dreyfus could be urging viewers to accept her in her return to television.
While Michael Richards and Jason Alexander essentially exported versions of Kramer and George to “The Michael Richards Show” and “Bob Patterson,” respectively, Dreyfus attempts to distance herself from the role of Elaine by playing a completely different character in a completely different atmosphere. Dropping many of the characteristics that became so familiar on “Seinfeld,” “Ellie” instead borrows from numerous shows that premiered last fall to critical acclaim and commercial success. Dropping the laugh track (“Undeclared”), this single-camera comedy (“Scrubs”) takes a real-time concept (“24”) and examines the life of single Los Angeles club singer, Ellie Riggs, in a weekly 22-minute snapshot.
The pilot episode is somewhat uneven. It starts off with a hilarious opening sequence where everything seems to go wrong at once for Ellie. While hurrying to get out of her apartment in time for a club date, Ellie has to deal with an overflowing toilet, her neighbor Ingvar who knocks himself unconscious trying to help, and a naked doctor who comes to the rescue. But after she gets out the door, things slow down and the digital countdown at the lower-left corner of the screen becomes glaringly apparent.
Written and created by executive producer Brad Hall, who also happens to be married to Dreyfus, the series also stars Lauren Bowles as Ellie”s younger sister, Steve Carell as her ex-boyfriend, Don Lake as her veterinarian neighbor and Darren Boyd as her guitarist/adulterer boyfriend. Peter Stormare of “Fargo” is also featured as Ingvar, but his talents are wasted in a weak and ineffective role.
The bottom line is that “Ellie” could go either way. The show could have been a disaster, and with the apparent curse on Seinfeld alums, it”s a surprise it isn”t. It”s not great, but it shows a potential that can be developed over time. Its weakness is that it rushes along without developing any of the characters and instead of watching “Ellie,” all we seem to be watching is part of an incomplete movie.