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"Lovespring" Springs into Action

Given the popularity and success of HBO's Curb Your Enthusiasm (and on the feature side, the films of Christopher Guest), network execs continue to look for series that feature improvisational comedy. After all, they're usually inexpensive to produce and, well, networks don't actually have to pay any writers per se. Making it a very attractive model, which might explain why every now and then series like ABC's Sons & Daughters or Lifetime's Lovespring International try to grab that crown from Curb's Larry David.

While Lovespring is far from perfect, it is a fun, frothy treat perfect for summertime ingestion. Rather like a beachside pina colada, in fact. Created by Guy Shalem and Brad Isaacs, Lovespring follows the travails of the professionals at Lovespring International, Beverly Hills' premiere dating service... which just happens to be based in the Los Angeles suburb of Tarzana. That the professional matchmakers are just as clueless as their clients is a large part of the comedy, which is more of the ha, ha, ha variety than the guffaws produced by Curb Your Enthusiasm, a show which Lovespring seems indebted to, from the familiar musical cues to an emphasis on mining humor from awkward or uncomfortable situations.

It's those very situations that I wish were a little less contrived. Curb found its freedom in investigating the mundane activities of everyday life in Los Angeles, while Lovespring is torn between exploring the quotidian and the zany. It's the series' zaniness which at times goes too far, such as when guest star Eric McCormack (who also serves as the show's executive producer) is torn apart by hungry dogs that receptionist Tiffany (Jennifer Elise Cox) was starving in an attempt to impregnate a client's pooch. The gruesomeness of Roman (McCormack)'s death took me out of the show completely and left a rather bitter taste in my mouth. I'd rather see the show focus on the triumphs and tribulations of the dating world than have a guest star mauled and eaten to death, which is apparently a popular way to die in Lovespring's wacky world, as this week's guest star Sean Hayes continues the trend by feasting on his dead wife following a plane crash. Jarring, to say the least.

The show needs some tightening (and stronger plotting), as it falls on Lovespring's talented actors to "write" the show's dialogue and carry the scenes. The entire troupe should be commended for their improv skills and the style does produce some hilarious lines at times, many from standout Wendi McLendon-Covey (Reno 911!) who plays lovelorn Lovespring VP Lydia Mayhew. Whenever McLendon-Covey appears on-screen, you can feel the energy crackle and the air bristle with comedic possibility. Lydia has got to be one of the saddest sacks in television, committed to a married man for twenty years, she's more pathetic than any of her clients. Yet McLendon-Covey manages to imbue Lydia with a sympathy and trampled grace that it is impossible to view her character as a completely lost cause.

The rest of the cast is also wonderful and includes Sam Pancake as closeted gay SVP Burke Kristopher, Jennifer Elise Cox as moronic receptionist Tiffany, Jack Plotnick as oversexed psychologist Steve Morris, Mystro Clark as videographer Alex Odom, and Jane Lynch as tyranical Lovespring founder Victoria Ratchford. As den mother/maniacal boss Victoria, Jane Lynch (40-Year-Old Virgin, Arrested Development) is phenomenal to watch and she's already proven her improv skills and comedic chops in Chrisopher Guest's superlative semi-improv'd films, Best in Show and A Mighty Wind. My only complaint is that I wish that producers would give Mystro Clark more to do, as thus far his talents have been rather wasted in the background. (I do hear, however, that next week's episode gives him an actual storyline, pairing him with Cox's receptionist in a romantic plot.)

Ultimately, Lovespring is an unexpected and unusual fit for Lifetime, a network which has made its name from shlocky women-in-peril telepics rather than groundbreaking comedy and hiding the show at 11 pm on Monday evenings might not be the best way to find an audience for this quirky, amusing show. While it might not be the most belly-achingly funny series, Lovespring is nonetheless a sweet confection that won't make you feel guilty in the morning. And, given its dating service setting, that's a good thing.

"Lovespring" airs Monday evenings at 11 pm ET/PT on Lifetime.

What's On Tonight

8 pm: Big Brother 7: All-Stars (CBS); Dateline (NBC); Blue Collar TV/Blue Collar TV (WB); George Lopez/Freddie (ABC); So You Think You Can Dance (FOX; 8-10 pm); My Date with Drew (UPN; 8-10 pm)

9 pm: Criminal Minds (CBS); America's Got Talent (NBC; 9-11 pm); One Tree Hill (WB); Lost (ABC)

10 pm: CSI: New York (CBS); Lost (ABC)

What I'll Be Watching

10 pm: Ramsay's Kitchen Nightmares on BBC America (9 pm ET).

If Monday night's Hell's Kitchen wasn't enough Gordon Ramsay for you, here's your chance to catch him again. On tonight's episode of Ramsay's Kitchen Nightmares ("La Riviera"), Gordon travels to Scotland to try to save the La Riviera restaurant from closing. The establishment boasts a top French chef and a highly trained kitchen staff, but can French ever conquer the land of haggis? Gordon aims to save this sinking ship but he's reminded of how his own Scotland-based restaurant failed years before.

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