"Working It Out," the new romantic comedy NBC is previewing tonight, deserves one high compliment: It plays so bright and civilized that, except for the accents, one could almost mistake it for British. This constitutes an indubitably pleasant surprise, particularly from an idiot network like NBC.
Bill Persky created, wrote and directed "Working It Out" -- at 9 on Channel 4 -- and he got the ideal sitcom leading lady to star in it. Jane Curtin brings just the right smart, tart skepticism to the character of Sarah Marshall, the divorced mom who vows, "I'm never going on a date again," and then, helplessly, embarks on the rocky road to a new courtship almost at once.
At a night-school cooking class, Sarah meets David Stuart (Stephen Collins), a divorced photographer who's also taken something of a chastity vow; they slowly, tentatively, seemingly hit it off. Persky charts the progress in relatively fresh ways, relying largely on "Rashomon" flashbacks in which the two principals recall these first stirrings from different viewpoints.
The cooking class scenes are pretty funny, thanks to Chevi Colter as Sophie, a matchmaker with a knack for spotting compatibles -- even when they seem more like combatibles -- and Jane Summerhays as a hard-driving glamourpuss named Lynda with a Y.
Explaining why she's taking the class, the fast-tracky Lynda says, "I have a very stress-filled job and I thought this would be a great way to unwind." Immediately, her cellular phone rings and she rushes to grab it.
Also in the cast is the quickly tiresome David Garrison, formerly the gabby neighbor on "Married ... With Children," now a gabby chum of David's. Their mantalk smalltalk is weak and trite. As for Collins, he's no more electrifying in this comedy than he was in NBC's two-time floppola, "Tattinger's." He's still a whiter shade of pale, just barely opaque.
So Curtin has to pretty much carry the show. She can, and she does, with some help from Kyndra Joy Casper as Molly, her sassy, but not too sassy, 9-year-old daughter. In her room with a friend, while Mom listens outside the door, Molly picks out her husband from among the New Kids on the Block. Cute.
"I'm not one of 'them,' " Collins tells Curtin as the night-school pasta cools and the relationship deepens. "Oh -- you're one of 'those,' " she deduces. One of the most welcome things about "Working It Out" is that it isn't one of the innumerable new fall sitcoms preoccupied with teenagers and their hormones.
Adults, after all, have hormones too. "Working It Out" deals with that, but also with a lot more. It's a nice show, reasonable and humane, and that makes it a true television standout these days. Indeed, perhaps ever.