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Television Review

'Valentine' and 'Easy Money' could use a little divine intervention

From left: Holly Valance, Christine Lakin, and Kristoffer Polaha in a scene from the new CW series ''Valentine.'' From left: Holly Valance, Christine Lakin, and Kristoffer Polaha in a scene from the new CW series ''Valentine.'' (Sonja flemming/the cw)
By Matthew Gilbert
Globe Staff / October 4, 2008
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Maybe I'd have relished watching any actress play a borderline nutcase who goes all "Fatal Attraction" on the tightly wrapped hero of "Dexter." But Jaime Murray, so intense as Lila on the Showtime drama, has become one of my favorite TV actresses. There's something slyly irrepressible about her and her dark eyes, even when she's playing a cool con artist on the British series "Hustle."

Tomorrow night, Murray continues to charm as the star of a new CW series called "Valentine," at 8 on Channel 56. She plays Aphrodite the goddess of love, literally, and she is both commanding and blithely comic in the role. She is, alas, better than anything else in the supernatural romance series, which probably won't last very long. About a family of Greek gods in Los Angeles who play matchmaker to clueless human beings, "Valentine" is sweet and amusingly cheesy but quite forgettable.

Aphrodite - actually she goes by Grace Valentine - is the head of a dating service, which employs her son, Eros (Kristoffer Polaha), Hercules (Robert Baker), and Phoebe (Autumn Reeser). They all reside together in a lovely mansion with a hot tub, where they plot their matchmaking schemes while Grace juggles her lover, Hephaestus the god of fire (Patrick Fabian), and her husband, Ares the god of warfare (Greg Ellis).

The hour is whimsical, but too often self-consciously so, as the gods goof around while working on the cutesy couple of the week. When the gods bring a mortal romance writer into their love business, to help them lure lovelorn people away from their computers, the show loses its way.

"Valentine" is followed tomorrow at 9 by "Easy Money," a slightly more interesting CW drama about a family who's as steeped in cash as the Greek gods are steeped in love. By the way, neither series looks or feels as though it belongs on the network of "Gossip Girl" and "90210" and there's a reason for that: After failing to get a foothold in the Sunday night ratings, the CW has essentially leased out its Sunday airspace this year to an independent production company called Media Rights Capital. Unlike the CW's chosen products, MRC has not blatantly strewn its products with youth cultural artifacts as a shortcut to reach younger viewers.

Like "Valentine," "Easy Money" features a familiar actress as a matriarch of sorts. Laurie Metcalf, wearing a bright red wig, plays Bobette Buffkin, who runs her family's high-interest short-term loan business, Prestige Payday Loans. Bobette is fierce about her work - Metcalf is entertainingly convincing - and she depends heavily on her middle son, Morgan (Jeff Hephner), when it comes to collecting unpaid loans and seizing assets.

Morgan is Bobette's henchman, but, much to her chagrin, he is developing a conscience about what he does and about the way Prestige preys on people who fail to realize their own financial limitations. It's a timely concept for a show, given the current economic downturn and the subprime mortgage disaster, and "Easy Money" benefits from that relevance. To some extent, the show offers a street-level dramatization of the current credit crisis.

But "Easy Money" is primarily about the Buffkins, including Bobette's other son, Cooper (Jay R. Ferguson), and not the people they exploit. Morgan (whose middle name is, you guessed it, Stanley) wants to go back to school, and he is overheard at the local bookstore making heady comments such as, "Because of Einstein, existentialism is dead." But will he break away from his domineering mother? And what's at the bottom of a mystery involving his sister?

The premiere is sloppily made, as it careens loosely among plotlines and characters, but Morgan is a worthy character played by a promising young actor. Through him, we see that easy money can be hard on the lender as well as on the borrower.

Matthew Gilbert can be reached at gilbert@globe.com. For more on TV, go to www.boston.com/ae/tv/blog.

Valentine

Starring: Jaime Murray, Kristoffer Polaha

On: The CW, Channel 56

Tomorrow night, 8-9

Easy Money

Starring: Laurie Metcalf, Jeff Hephner

On: The CW, Channel 56

Tomorrow night, 9-10

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