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Television Review

Bubbly, but no fizz to Elfman sitcom

By Matthew Gilbert
Globe Staff / September 21, 2009

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Jenna Elfman is bubbly, and if bubbly isn’t your bag, you have no business watching “Accidentally on Purpose.’’ The humdrum CBS sitcom, premiering tonight at 8:30 on Channel 4, is a vehicle for the former star of “Dharma & Greg,’’ where she played a bubbly hippie chick with bubbly marital issues. This time, she’s doing pregnant-cougar-bubbly, featuring lots of bubbly romantic banter with the boy who knocked her up.

And “knocked up’’ is the best phrase, because this series plays a bit like an adaptation of the movie with that title. In fact, though, “Accidentally on Purpose’’ is based on a memoir by Mary F. Pols, a Bay Area film critic in her late 30s who got pregnant during a fling with a guy in his 20s. Elfman plays the pregnant critic Billie, who whimsically decides to let her boy toy, Zack (Jon Foster), move in with her strictly as a roommate. Of course, flirtation ensues, as does generational clash as Zack and his slacker buddies offend Billie’s more adult sensibilities.

Lurking in the background is Billie’s ex-boyfriend and editor, James, played as a noncommittal and nonbubbly guy’s guy by Grant Show. James is the man to Zack’s boy, and surely there will be triangular tensions as the series unfolds, assuming it unfolds. To be honest, after his impressive turn on “Swingtown,’’ I had hoped Show would be more selective about his TV appearances. He couldn’t have climbed aboard a less original sitcom than “Accidentally on Purpose,’’ which is as predictable as “How I Met Your Mother,’’ the show that precedes it, is inventive.

The stereotypes in play on “Accidentally on Purpose’’ are flat, if harmless, from the get-go. Zack and his buddies are frat-boy video-gamers, one of whom uses Billie’s grandmother’s urn as a water pipe. Billie and her requisite pair of sex-and-the-city pals, one of whom, Olivia (Ashley Jensen), is the requisite lush, have requisite girl talk. And the whole cougar theme, which is also in play on ABC’s upcoming “Cougar Town’’ with Courteney Cox, needs to be declared dead. There’s no more funny left in that particular pop trend, nor does it connote female empowerment any longer when women lust after younger men. It simply connotes lust.

There are, of course, more offensive sitcoms out there, and dumber ones, too. But “Accidentally on Purpose’’ is so contrived, you feel as though you’ve seen it already while you’re watching it for the first time. Alas, no amount of carbonation can solve that problem.

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

ACCIDENTALLY ON PURPOSE Starring: Jenna Elfman, Ashley Jensen, Jon Foster, Grant Show

On: CBS, Channel 4

Time: Tonight, 8:30-9

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