"Anything but Love" may have salvaged itself by violating its own title. The ABC sitcom about two platonic pals at a city magazine returns retooled and rejuvenated with new episodes in which that platonic status bites the dust.
Yes, Hannah Miller (Jamie Lee Curtis) and Marty Gold (Richard Lewis) have fallen in love and are going to spend a night together, but the consummation, however devoutly to be wished, is not easily achieved. Therein lies the comedy, and plenty of it. "Anything but Love" is looking anything but dead.
In the series re-premiere, tonight at 9:30 on Channel 7, Hannah calls Marty's answering machine to say, "I think I love you. How about that?" The seduction is set in motion but runs smack into John Ritter, who guest stars on the first three episodes as an obnoxious famous photographer named Patrick Serreau.
Ever since Sam and Diane hit the sheets on "Cheers," series producers have agonized over whether to keep cute couples at arm's length or mate them like laboratory animals and risk dissipating the sexual tension. For "Anything but Love," there really wasn't much of a dilemma, since the show wasn't going anywhere anyway.
Where it had been a series about two people denying their mutual attraction, it is now a series about the difficulties of an office romance.
Life at the office has improved in other ways. Bruce Weitz, long ago the hard-bitten and hard-biting Belker of "Hill Street Blues," joins the cast tonight as Mike Urbanek, a tough, socially reactionary columnist who announces his credo to co-workers: "I talk. I don't 'dialogue,' 'interface' or 'network,' and woe to the man who tries to fax with me."
Snappy Ann Magnuson, splashing around in shocker colors, does funny wonders with the role of Catherine, the editor of Chicago Weekly, whose lusting after Ritter goes to the extreme of "imagining him naked, heaving and happy." She also has an announcement to make tonight about a character and actor who have been written out of the series, Joseph Maher as a visiting British TV critic:
"After a year spent reviewing American television, Brian Alquist late last night walked into Marshall Field's department store, marched to the electronics department and bashed in the entire bank of TV screens. He is presently in a tight white coat on his way back to Surrey."
Just a joke? Could never happen? Then why are special guards posted in the electronics departments at Woodward & Lothrop and the Hecht Co.???
Sleazy Serreau is the roadblock to a successful conjugation by the two leads; Hannah gets mad when Marty tells her Serreau is trying to seduce her. She thinks he's inviting her along on a trip to West Africa because he admires and respects her as a journalist. When will she see the light? In the third episode, that's when.
In the fourth, three weeks from tonight, Hannah and Marty wake up in bed together. It isn't spoiling anything to reveal this -- only helping with your video planning -- because how they get there is most of the fun. When they do, in that fourth show (like tonight's, deftly written by executive producer Peter Noah), they go through four fantasy sequences imagining how those in the office will react.
Each sequence is a parody -- first of "The Front Page," then of "A Streetcar Named Desire," then of virtually any Noel Coward comedy, then of ABC's tutti-frutti "Twin Peaks." In this last one, Curtis pops a paper clip into her mouth and twists it into a map of the United States.
Curtis is a strange combination of sexiness and sexlessness. She seems to play well off Lewis, whose Woody Allen imitation has finally congealed into something distinctive and mildly appealing. With the help of a nicely polished supporting cast, their relationship may have a future after all.
Where it once seemed kind of tired and forced, and not a very comfortable affair, "Anything but Love" has evolved into an adroit romantic romp. It's a workplace comedy that is finally, but definitely, working.