TV Eye

UPN's unlikely heroes

TV Eye

I have a pet peeve about certain titles: Judging Amy, Crossing Jordan, Tru Calling – titles presumably meant to elicit a deeper meaning. So, while I'm perfectly happy with the simplicity of Veronica Mars and Kevin Hill, the titles of two new UPN dramas, I'm concerned that neither fully captures each drama's unique qualities.

Let me start with Veronica Mars. Kristen Bell stars as the title character, a once-carefree high-school girl with friends, a popular boyfriend, and a secure place in Neptune High School culture and in the small, coastal town where she lives. Several disturbing incidents, all of which make Veronica grow up too fast, ostracize her and her father, Keith Mars (Enrico Colantoni). A former sheriff, Keith now works as a private eye. When he hits the road for fast cash nabbing bail jumpers, Veronica holds down their Neptune office, picking up the slack on PI duties by night, while navigating high school's treacherous social cliques by day.

Yeah, right. Could a 17-year-old girl really have as much insider contact with behind-the-scenes city workers as we're expected to believe? In a large city, no. But in the painfully insular world of the fictional Neptune, Calif. – a city patterned after many, very real California beach towns – the answer might be a reluctant yes.

In the end, I buy the setup because Bell is excellent as the former nice girl who had to toughen up fast. Veronica Mars has much in common with another teen heroine, Buffy Summers from Buffy the Vampire Slayer. No, there is no acrobatic butt-kicking or vampires (of the supernatural variety) lurking about. What Veronica lacks in martial arts skills, she makes up for in fearlessness, an agile mind, and a hard-won ability to take care of herself. Like Buffy, Veronica finds herself protecting victimized outsiders, while making deals with others to right wrongs. Unfortunately, some of the wrongs Veronica's endured remain unresolved, but hoping she sees justice is one of the many reasons to watch the show.

Speaking of watchable, is there a more delicious vision of maleness than Taye Diggs? As the titular Kevin Hill, Diggs is an entertainment lawyer living the fast life. That all changes abruptly when he inherits his cousin's 10-month-old daughter. (Don't worry, the Three Men and a Baby jokes come early.) The acceptance of his situation is what drives the series. Additionally, by placing Kevin Hill in relationships he would never have encountered in his former life – working with a gay male nanny, taking a job in a women-run boutique law firm – Kevin is forced to face his misconceptions of those who he had little or superficial regard for.

I've read other reviewers complain about the thickheaded things Kevin says, for example, to his gay nanny, George (Patrick Breen). The comments are thickheaded (Kevin assumes George is interested in "those Queer Eye shows"); however, I accept them as the "You can't make this stuff up" variety of ludicrousness – well meaning but stupid. As a man who thought he had it all, Kevin Hill has a lot to learn now that he is not the center of his universe. How he makes that journey makes the show eminently watchable.

Veronica Mars premiered on Sept. 22. The pilot rebroadcasts tonight (Sept. 24) at 8pm before moving to its regular Tuesday nighttime slot on Sept. 28 (with guest star Paris Hilton). Kevin Hill premieres Sept. 29 at 8pm. Both shows are on UPN. Check local listings.

What Else Is On?

Lost Boys of Sudan: A brutal 20-year civil war has all but destroyed Sudan, displacing millions, including thousands of orphaned young men. After spending nearly a decade in a Kenyan refugee camp, 4,000 "lost boys" came to the U.S. to seek a new life. Filmmakers Megan Mylan and Jon Shenk follow two of these boys in Lost Boys of Sudan, another fine offering in the POV series. It airs Sept. 28 at 9pm on KLRU.

Crashing the Parties 2004: Love 'em or hate 'em, third-party candidates are demanding a place at this year's presidential election table. Find out who they are and why they want your vote in Crashing the Parties 2004, airing Sept. 29 at 9pm on KLRU.

Series premieres: Complete Savages, Sept. 24, 7:30pm, on ABC, and Dr. Vegas, Sept. 24, 9pm, on CBS. Sept. 28: Clubhouse on CBS. Sept. 29: Center of the Universe on CBS. Oct. 3: Desperate Housewives and Boston Legal, both on ABC. Oct. 7: Life as We Know It on ABC. Airtimes and dates are subject to change. Check local listings.

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Kristen Bell, Veronica Mars, Taye Diggs, Kevin Hill

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