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In an early scene of the new ad-agency-based CBS sitcom, "Good Company," the two-dimensional bitchy executive creative director character is lecturing the two-dimensional hotshot creative director character about his work ethic.

"You can't sit around," she says, "and drink cappuccino and discuss your personal problems all day like you were a cast member of that show `Friends,' because I got some news for you. This isn't, and we ain't."

Oh, brother, is that ever for sure.

"Friends"? You don't even want these folks as acquaintances.

The setting for this CBS entry is the Blanton, Booker & Hayden agency, an apparently small shop run by a barely sentient CEO and his majordomo, the ruthless executive creative director, Zoe Hellstrom. Wendy Malick is simply unwatchable in that role, playing the heavy neither amusingly nor persuasively nor anything but heavy-handedly.

The protagonist is the handsome and earnest creative director Will (John Tenney), torn between his flair for advertising and his life's desire to be a painter.

This conflict, and presumably the overriding tension between art and commerce, is meant to be the hub of the comedic action. But in the first two episodes there isn't much action and there sure isn't much comedy.

In Show No. 1, Will quits the agency on principle, then has to get his job back. In Show No. 2, the agency loses a big account and he has to fire someone. Alas, he can't bring himself to fire the junior copywriter, Jody. He's too young and offbeat and vulnerable. And he can't fire his senior copywriter, Liz. She's his ex-girlfriend and the one who wears the tight sweaters. And he can't fire junior art director Dale. She's too....oh, who knows? She doesn't seem to be too anything, except invisible.

None of these characters, or actors, jumps off the screen. The only performance with any sizzle is Jason Beghe as Ron, the-are you ready for this outa-right-field twist-sleazy, narcissistic account executive.

Not only is "Good Company" no "Friends," it's a whole lot closer to "Three's Company"-i.e., just the latest mindless sitcom, offering none of the elements TV comedy requires to stand out from the dreary pack.

That the situations revolve around office life isn't itself limiting. "Cheers," "Barney Miller," "The Mary Tyler Moore Show," "Seinfeld"-some of the greatest TV comedies-all have been premised on four or five people sitting in a room.

What distinguishes good situation comedy is the strength of the writing, the characterizations and the performances, which is exactly where "Good Company" looks bad.

The jokes aren't all that funny, the characters are numbingly stereotypical and not a single member of the cast overcomes the ordinary everything else by sheer force of personality.

Under those circumstances, the cookie-cutter premise becomes a crippling deficiency. The show is nominally about advertising, but really it's about nothing at all.

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