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TELEVISION REVIEW

Lifetime's `Lovespring' is a fun match of satire and bad taste

When it comes to original material, Lifetime has generally assumed women don't have a sense of humor. Its programmers appear to think their target audience prefers melodramatic tales of bravery, adultery, pregnancy, and that old standby, split personality. They've even gone out of their way to make Tori Spelling unfunny. That's like making Anna Nicole Smith brainy.

Tonight at 11, Lifetime attempts to crack smiles with a cracked new series called ``Lovespring International." It's not for everyone, that's for sure. Produced by Eric McCormack from ``Will & Grace," ``Lovespring International" is demented enough to leave fans of conventional sitcoms mystified and even miffed. But it's definitely for me, and for those who like the willful perverseness of Comedy Central's ``Reno 911!" or Christopher Guest movies such as ``Best in Show." ``Lovespring International" is a lively little cable exercise in over-the-top characters, bad taste, satire, and political incorrectness.

The show is set in the offices of a California dating service called Lovespring International, but don't think of UPN's similarly themed but inferior ``Love, Inc." Each Lovespring staff member is seriously off-balance, as they lie, cheat, steal, seduce, backstab, and gossip their way through days of setting up love matches. Tonight's episode revolves around Burke Kristopher (Sam Pancake), aLovespring ``relationship counselor" who is repulsed by his wife and sleeping with her brother. Like Corky St. Clair in ``Waiting for Guffman," he passes as straight -- if you're blind and deaf.

The best character in this freak show has to be receptionist Tiffany, who is a spaced-out bimbo from another planet. She's played by actress Jennifer Elise Cox, who has a habit of stealing shows and movies with her unexpected comic timing. She was hysterical as a peculiar surrogate mother on ``Six Feet Under" and as Jan in the Brady Bunch movies. If you saw the ``Will & Grace" bloopers in the recent series finale, you may remember her as the nurse trainee who kept Debra Messing in stitches. In next week's episode, McCormack guest stars as a single looking for a girlfriend, and Cox has great fun making Tiffany lust after him in an almost delusional state.

Jane Lynch, who was in ``Best in Show" and ``The 40-Year-Old Virgin," and Wendi McLendon-Covey from ``Reno 911! " also stand out in the cast. Lynch plays the owner of Lovespring, who is forever getting out of detox, and McLendon-Covey is a relationship counselor who has been involved with a married man for 20 years.

I don't want to oversell``Lovespring." It's an improvisational comedy, a format that tends to have a lot of ups and downs in the course of its 22 minutes. There are scenes when the actors are clearly clicking, and then there are gags that tumble out and fall flat. But the first two episodes bode well for the series, and promise many more wonderfully sick moments to come.

Matthew Gilbert can be reached at gilbert@globe.com.

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