Tuned In: 'Jane By Design' a flimsy knock-off

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Until The CW manages to get its programming act together, ABC Family seems destined to be the primary TV hangout for teenage girls.

Already the network has the hits "Pretty Little Liars" (8 p.m. Monday), "The Lying Game" (9 p.m. Monday) and "Switched at Birth" (8 p.m. Tuesday). This week new episodes of those returning series will be joined by another entry: "Jane By Design" (9 p.m. Tuesday).

"Jane" borrows elements from its predecessors, including a big secret upon which the entire premise of the show rests (thanks, "Lying Game"!), a pinch of backstabbing (thanks, "Pretty Little Liars"!) and high school relationship hijinks (thanks, every teen show ever made!).

"Jane" is a decent enough little show but it's difficult to imagine how its writers will manage to sustain the premise, which seems better suited to a one-shot film than an ongoing series.

A teen with chic fashion sense, Jane Quimby (newcomer Erica Dasher) is somehow an outcast at school, hanging with her platonic, big-haired best friend, Billy (Nicholas Roux, "Lemonade Mouth"), and pining for long-time crush Nick (newcomer Matthew Atkinson) while getting bullied by Mean Girl Lulu (Megan Tandy, who played Denzel Washington's daughter in the filmed-in-Western-Pennsylvania movie "Unstoppable").

Jane also needs money because her older brother, Ben (David Rogers, "Cougar Town"), hasn't found a job since their father died (mom split when Jane was a baby) and the family faces eviction if someone doesn't start paying the mortgage soon.

That plot element explains Jane's deception. She goes to interview for an internship with a New York fashion house and, through a clerical error, ends up getting hired as the assistant to demanding fashionista Gray Chandler Murray (Andie MacDowell, "Green Card"), who thinks Jane's name is Janet.

Gray is meant to be a TV-ready version of the Meryl Streep character from "The Devil Wears Prada." She constantly jets around the world and frequently orders Jane around via video conference.

How Jane manages to contain her secret and file the paperwork necessary to get hired is dealt with in a glancing, unsatisfying way. Details!

"Jane By Design" is more interested in plunging its lead character into the viper's pit that is her workplace.

"It sort of feels like I've gone from calculus to corporate espionage," Jane complains to Billy, who it turns out is protecting a secret of his own. (Don't get too excited; it's not all that shocking.)

At her new workplace, Jane is tasked with spying on Gray's second-in-command, India (India De Beaufort, "Run, Fatboy, Run"), who is gunning for Gray's job when she's not sleeping with senior designer Jeremy Jones (Rowley Dennis), who hits on Jane even though he appears to be more than a decade older than her. Wait 'til he finds out his attempted conquest is a high school student -- if that ever happens.

Herein lays the challenge for "Jane By Design": Jane seemingly has to maintain her charade or the show presumably ends when Gray learns her assistant is a high school student. Seems like that will require repetitive, tortured plot twists by the writers -- already in each of the first two episodes Jane has been faced with the need to be in two places at the same time to keep her double life going -- and a real leap of faith by viewers.

Rob Owen writes this Sunday TV column for Scripps Howard News Service. Contact him at: rowen@post-gazette.com or 412-263-2582. Read the Tuned In Journal blog at post-gazette.com/tv. Follow RobOwenTV on Twitter or Facebook. First Published January 1, 2012 5:00 AM


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