'The Ex List'


"The Ex List" is one of those rare new-season surprises that consistently charms straight out of the box, boasting a clever premise (borrowed from Israeli television) and a disarmingly appealing lead in Elizabeth Reaser, a recurring player on "Grey's Anatomy."

In this case, however, the assessment might prove rather bittersweet. Reason: The writer of the show's pilot and its showrunner through the first six episodes, Diane Ruggiero (who also logged time on "Veronica Mars"), left the show last month because of apparent creative differences with CBS and producer 20th Century Fox TV, leaving it to be run by Rick Eid beyond that first half-dozen.

It's too bad only in that the premiere hour is such a kick to watch; it's sassy, edgy, irreverent and sweet all at once. Reaser has the goods to grow into a genuine breakout if the material proves worthy of her intriguing style.

At the heart of "Ex List" is the search for love, or at least contentment, or at least less loneliness — or whatever it is we call a meaningful relationship in the new millennium. Reaser's Bella Bloom is a successful, trendy thirtysomething who has great friends, good looks, a swell body and an affinity for surfing. All she lacks is a man to call her own.

That search for Mr. Right grows into an instant obsession when a psychic tells her that she's already dated her future husband, and if she doesn't find out which of her exes is her destiny, she'll be alone forever. So now she's consumed with going through every man she's ever been with, one by one, returning to the past to see if there can be a present that portends a future. In the opener, madcap mix-ups ensue when she puts her eggs in the basket of an eccentric musician (Eric Balfour, "Six Feet Under") who can't seem to decide if he loves Bella or hates her.

Ah, the search for love. Ruggiero's opening script is chock-full of rich dialogue and pointed zingers that gloriously send up the self-centered age in which we live. And Timothy Busfield's direction is superb, keeping the action fun and flowing.

Now let's hope this promising guy-friendly chick show can draw sufficient attention in a Friday night period that's most often a black hole.