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‘Pepper Dennis’ is not so hot

Rebecca Romjin takes a wobbly star turn on the WB
/ Source: <a href="" linktype="External" resizable="true" status="true" scrollbars="true">The Washington Post</a></p>

If you don't want to know that Pepper Dennis's real name is Patty Dinkle, then stop reading here. Oh -- er, sorry. You would have had to stop reading when you started reading.

Okay, then, if you don't want to know that Pepper has a one-night fling with a man who turns out to be the new anchor at the TV station where she works, go back to "Okay, then" and stop there.

Actually, there probably isn't much about "Pepper Dennis" that you really do want to know, and you're likely to stop early on. Pepper's real name isn't revealed until well into tonight's premiere -- at 9 on the WB -- and many viewers, in fact, might have abandoned her by then.

"Pepper Dennis" does deserve a blip on the radar screen, but only because it was conceived as a vehicle for the imposingly glamorous, and clearly talented, Rebecca Romijn, formerly Rebecca Romijn Stamos. No one seems to have decided, though, whether Romijn aspires to be a Lucy for the new millennium or a Mary Tyler Moore for the new millennium, because the TV correspondent she plays is fighting for women's rights one minute and then slipping and falling face-first into a puddle the next.

Or crashing into a table of refreshments. Or being tossed into a vat of garbage.

Although much of the show takes place in the offices of all-news TV station WEIE in Chicago, and Pepper interacts with many of those on the staff (though not all to the degree, certainly, of her interaction with the anchorman, played by Josh Hopkins), it's not quite an ensemble comedy, reflecting further creative confusion. It's really more of a sister show, because in the pilot, Pepper's sister Kathy, played by the widely and wildly smiley Brooke Burns, leaves her twerp of a husband (who calls her "Pooh Bear") and moves into Pepper's magnificent apartment (the salaries at WEIE must be humongous).

In fact, Sis gets a job at WEIE herself, so she shares home and workplace scenes with Romijn. They ought to get co-star billing, really, and Burns never met a scene she didn't at least consider stealing.

One wonders whether there's a certain tension about this on the set. (And no, we're not going to use a term like "catfight" or any other male chauvinist thing because the situation would be much the same if it were about a single man whose brother unexpectedly horned into his life and two male actors were vying for screen space.)

Each week -- apparently -- we will follow Pepper on her adventures in romance and on her exploits as a reporter who wants to be an anchor some day. She has framed pictures of herself at a big party or convention with Walter Cronkite, whom Romijn looks too young to remember, much less idolize. You'd think she have a picture of, say, Katie Couric.

Anyway, the show does aim some sharp satirical barbs at the confusion reigning today over proper behavior between the sexes at the office. It is mentioned that one male employee was sacked for telling a female employee that he thought her blouse was pretty. This is dismayingly plausible. In the second episode, all employees must attend a seminar sponsored by Sexual Harassment Ain't Good, or SHAG, tee-hee.

It's satisfying, if not hilarious, when, upon hearing the anchorman blurt out her previously secret real name on the air, Pepper explodes and does some blurting of her own, uttering an expletive. Pepper's boss has a fit and, fearing an outlandish fine from the FCC, takes away Pepper's press pass and suspends her.

As it happens, early in her suspension, Pepper gets the goods on a city councilman who's been financing personal perks by dipping into the teachers' pension fund. Delighted with the story, Pepper's boss proclaims: "Screw the FCC. You're back."

One is oh-so-tempted to wonder whether this turn of events, and the dialogue involved, might earn "Pepper Dennis" a real FCC inquiry, maybe even leading up to a real fine. Stranger, if not stupider, things have happened.

Much of the humor, naturally, involves sex, and broadcast television's perennial search for euphemisms continues. You can probably guess what two men are talking about when they marvel at "the cupcakes" of a woman on the staff, or what's being referred to when it is observed that a man was injured in "the cashews."

There are some actual laughs. Pamela Reed and Bob Gunton are fairly funny when they drop in, uninvited, to annoy their daughters. There's a cute visual gag in the premiere involving Romijn and Lindsay Price as Kimmy Kim, the makeup woman.

Chicago photographs beautifully, even if only a few token location shots were taken there. One view of the skyline against Lake Michigan is breathtaking. It's kind of a bad sign when you wish there were more scenery in a show and fewer scenes with characters and dialogue and stuff like that.