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A shallow plot for gold digger

RICHARD FOREMAN/LIFETIME NETWORKSSarah Chalke (with Paul Leyden) brings her kooky sweetness to her role in ''Maneater.'' RICHARD FOREMAN/LIFETIME NETWORKSSarah Chalke (with Paul Leyden) brings her kooky sweetness to her role in ''Maneater.'' (Richard Foreman/Lifetime Networks)
By Matthew Gilbert
Globe Staff / May 30, 2009
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Hollywood, you've no doubt read in countless books or seen in a kajillion movies and TV shows, is the shallowness capital of the world. As the hub of rubber lips, air-kiss intimacy, and star-making machinery, it has been much-much chronicled and satirized. So the central theme of Lifetime's sudsy "Maneater" - money worship and spiritual vacuity in La-La Land - is old hat to begin with. The new two-part miniseries, which premieres tonight at 9, is Highway 101 Revisited.

The only fresh element in this lite romantic dramedy is Sarah Chalke, who has been a member of one of TV's finest sitcom ensembles of the last decade, on "Scrubs." You have to be a fan of Chalke, who got her big break as the second Becky on "Roseanne," if you want to find any satisfaction in this otherwise feeble tale. As Clarissa Alpert, a proudly materialistic gold digger, Chalke is as endearing as ever, making insecurity into awkward brashness. She's never convincing as a conniver - Chalke is too kooky-sweet for that - but this is a fairy tale and believability isn't ever really at stake.

Based on the novel by Gigi Levangie Grazer, who also wrote "The Starter Wife," "Maneater" finds Clarissa plotting to marry a wealthy heir named Aaron Mason before she even meets him. Is he too good to be true - especially since he's played by Philip Winchester, the dashing actor who recently starred in NBC's "Crusoe"? Will she betray him with her two-timing ex, Simon (Paul Leyden)? Will Aaron betray her? Romantic mysteries are afoot, but that's not stopping Clarissa from secretly planning a high-end wedding ceremony at a ritzy LA hotel.

The plot twists come flying at us at warp speed, and without any character logic, as Clarissa's love life takes the expected unexpected turns. Meanwhile, in a subplot that qualifies as the weakest rip-off of "Sex and the City" since "Cashmere Mafia," Clarissa is fitted with three sassy galpals who dress in funky fashions and talk about men. Played by Judy Greer, Marla Sokoloff, and Noureen DeWulf, they're neither funny nor poignant as they advise Clarissa. They give "Maneater" a more contemporary feel than a Jackie Collins novel - but nothing more. And the presence of the increasingly unrecognizable Maria Conchita Alonso and Gregory Harrison as Clarissa's battling parents is simply bizarre.

And yet there's Chalke, as winsome as ever, despite the thin story and script. Across the four empty hours of "Maneater," she puts a little bit of super in superficial.

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

MANEATER Starring: Sarah Chalke, Greg Pitts, Philip Winchester, Maria Conchita Alonso, Gregory Harrison, Paul Leyden, Judy Greer

On: Lifetime

Time: Tonight, 9-11

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