Matchmaking gods rule 'Valentine': 'Easy Money' feels short-changed

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Like a homeowner with shaky finances who's forced to rent out a room to stay afloat, The CW begins leasing its Sunday night lineup this week.

The CW, seen in Pittsburgh on WPCW-Channel 19, has given over Sunday night to independent production company Media Rights Capital, which has programmed the 8-to-10 p.m. block with two scripted dramas, "Valentine" and "Easy Money."

Of the two, "Valentine" (8 tonight) is the more conventional series -- sort of a landlocked "Love Boat" with Greek gods -- but it's also more entertaining.

Jaime Murray (evil Lila on "Dexter") stars as Grace Valentine, aka Aphrodite, the goddess of love. She and the other Greek gods live in Los Angeles and attempt to orchestrate love connections between soul mates as identified by Phoebe (Autumn Reeser, "The O.C."), the goddess of the Oracle at Delphi.

In the premiere, the Valentines must bring together two best friends who portray famous characters -- Joanna plays Madonna, Roland is Charlie Chaplin -- in front of Grauman's Chinese Theatre, the Hollywood tourist trap. Roland has long pined for Joanna, but after holding her hair back one drunken night while she vomited, they've only been friends.

"I guarantee you that is the exact second Roland turned from the sexy-fun-boyfriend-type to the neutered caretaker who pretends to like 'Grey's Anatomy,'\u2009\u2009" says Grace's son Danny (Kristoffer Polaha), aka Eros, the god of erotic love.

"Valentine" won't only be about the destined-to-fall-in-love guest stars of the week, an old-fashioned conceit that won't fly on its own today. The series also deals with the troubles facing the gods. The Internet has made their jobs more difficult -- Grace calls computers "plastic loneliness boxes" -- so Grace enlists a mortal romance novelist, Kate Providence (Christine Lakin), to help grow the family business.

Grace also faces love-life challenges of her own that are better explained in next week's episode. She's married to Ari (Greg Ellis), aka Ares, the god of war, but still has the hots for her former love (Pittsburgh native Patrick Fabian, "Veronica Mars") who now works as her handyman and also happens to be Hephaestus, the god of fire.

"Valentine," created by Kevin Murphy ("Desperate Housewives," "Reefer Madness: The Movie Musical"), is fine but nothing special. It's a less quirky version of ABC's 1998-99 series "Cupid," which is about to be re made. What distinguishes it from the other new MRC drama is that it doesn't look as cheaply made as "Easy Money" (9 tonight), the story of a family that runs a high-interest loan business.

Laurie Metcalf ("Roseanne") stars as matriarch Bobette Buffkin, but the focus is on her middle child, Morgan (Jeff Hephner, "The O.C."), who begins to uncover a family secret toward the end of the premiere episode. Only then is there anything remotely interesting about "Easy Money," a series from usually reliable executive producers Diane Frolov and Andrew Schneider ("The Sopranos," "Northern Exposure").

Tonight's first episode clocks in at just 37 minutes (most hour-long dramas are at least 42 minutes) and even then it's padded with two long music-backed montages with absolutely no interesting camera work. The "Easy Money" production values are low all-around but they wouldn't be as noticeable if the characters and tedious story sparked to life. They don't, and it doesn't.


Contact TV editor Rob Owen at rowen@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1112. Read the Tuned In Journal blog at post-gazette.com/tv .


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