'Drop Dead Diva' drops in some fun
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Watching "Drop Dead Diva," you can almost hear the pitch that sold Lifetime on this series: It's "Legally Blonde" meets "Dead Like Me."
Against all odds, that turns out to be an odd-couple combo that results in a light, fun series -- ideal fizzy entertainment for summer.
The story begins as vapid, blonde model Deb (recurring guest star Brooke D'Orsay) talks on the phone and applies makeup while driving to audition to be a model on "The Price is Right." Around the same time, unhappy, diligent, dowdy lawyer Jane (TV newcomer Brooke Elliott) begins a new day at the office, enduring the slights of fashionable, less competent co-worker Kim (Kate Levering), who remarks, "And Jane, For what it's worth, no one under 50 wears a brooch."
Just as Deb dies in a car accident -- she plows into a truck hauling fruit -- Jane stumbles into the midst of an office domestic disturbance and gets shot.
- When: 9 tonight, Lifetime.
- Starring: Brooke Elliott.
When Deb arrives at the pearly gates, which looks like a suburban mall, gatekeeper angel Fred (Ben Feldman), checks her record and finds she's neither all-good nor all-bad, a rare zero-sum soul.
Deb, accustomed to getting her way, reaches over his desk and hits the return key on Fred's computer, sending her back to Earth in the body of Jane, whose soul has passed on.
The mechanics of this body swap are somewhat involved -- Deb, in Jane's body, retains her Deb personality but gains Jane's intelligence -- but the upshot is a new, presumed amnesiac Jane who surprises co-workers by declaring, "I don't wear Lane Bryant" after opening a closet filled with the old Jane's wardrobe.
New Jane refuses to accept her fate initially, demanding that Fred, who takes a job as a law firm clerk to keep an eye on his charge, make her "skinny and hot."
"I'm a guardian angel, not a wizard," Fred replies.
"Diva" was created by writer Josh Berman whose past efforts -- "CSI," "Vanished," "Killer Instinct" -- were decidedly darker and more grisly. "Diva" reflects more the softer, lighter tone of executive producer Alex Taub, who has worked on "Eli Stone" and "Kevin Hill." The team of Craig Zadan and Neil Meron ("Hairspray," "Chicago") also serve as executive producers.
Whatever the ingredients or past efforts of these chefs, they nailed the recipe with this refreshing comedy.
Once Jane begins accepting her new reality, she meets with clients who question her new tone ("Are you whining?" asks one woman who's in the midst of a divorce). Jane also expresses a newfound exuberance in the courtroom.
None of this would work without a rousing performance by Elliott, whose previous credits include turns on Broadway in "Taboo" and "Wicked." Her ability to channel a self-absorbed soul and at the same time show that the new Jane has some redeeming qualities makes "Drop Dead Diva" a minor delight for viewers who seek engaging escapist fare.
First Published July 12, 2009 12:00 am