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"Get Real" on Fox.

By Devin D. O'Leary

SEPTEMBER 13, 1999:  In order to stand out from the oncoming tidal wave of fall series, a new TV show has to do one of two things: premiere really early, or have a big gimmick. FOX's new comedy/drama "Get Real" has managed both.

"Get Real" comes to us from creator Clyde Phillips (the man behind the Ferris Bueller wannabe "Parker Lewis Can't Lose"). In "Get Real" Phillips introduces us to the dysfunctional Green family. Mitch and Mary Green (Joe Tenney and Debrah Farentino) are a couple of workaholic parents with a trio of teenage kids. The oldest, Meghan (Anne Hathaway), is her school's angst-ridden valedictorian. Middle kid Cameron (Eric Olsen) is a skateboard-riding Romeo with a sub-par IQ. Youngest child Kenny (Jesse Eisenberg) is the family's resident geek. Mom and dad are in the middle of dual mid-life crises. The kids are freaking out. Grandma (Christina Pickles) has moved in. And to top it all off, the kitchen is being remodeled.

Hey, if the family were perfect, you'd be stuck watching "7th Heaven" -- a point which "Get Real" is all too happy to remind us of.

The gimmick here, you see, is that viewers can hear many of the characters' thoughts while they deal with their assorted high school tribulations and family crises. Kenny and Meghan narrate the first episode in a tag-team voice-over that milks much humor from its self-conscious nature. "I know what you're thinking," sympathizes Meghan to the audience. "This is another one of those shows where kids talk to the audience like on 'Dawson's Creek' ... which I'm not even sure does voice-overs."

If a show's going to be self-conscious, it might as well go full tilt, and "Get Real" scores points for some clever self-mockery. Despite the protestations of its stars, though, the show frequently visits the well of sitcom clichés for inspiration. Geeky young Kenny is, of course, required to be madly in love with the prettiest girl in school. Grandma, being a sitcom grandma, is forced to drop frequent sex jokes. When "Get Real" strikes out on its own, though, it usually mines solid laughs. At one point, Meghan talks to viewers about a "big problem" she has to discuss with her parents. Despite the fact that she is standing in front of an Indigo Girls poster, she assures viewers, "No, I'm not gay."

Though the show concentrates largely on comedy, there's a decent amount of drama thanks to mom and dad and the increasing sexual tension in their life. If "Get Real" actually develops some "zambonis" (in "Get Real" parlance) and decides not to wrap its stories up in a neat little bow each week, there could be some fine ongoing storylines here.

At some point, "Ally McBeal" had to grow beyond its initial gimmick of visualizing Ally's daydreams and start penning some compelling stories. "Get Real" has got the gimmick. Now let's see if it's got the stories.

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