The Wedding Bells




A new show from master storyteller David E. Kelley should be cause for celebration, but "The Wedding Bells" mostly limps down the aisle and is no occasion for a lavish reception. Consequently, what some hoped would be one of the events of the season turns out more like a shindig at the VFW hall.

The show, about a family of wedding planners, was conceived originally by Jason Katims, whose work on "Friday Night Lights," "My So-Called Life" and other series also raised expectations. Kelley and Katims took their first run at the premise with "DeMarco Affairs," a pilot ABC rejected a few years ago.

Kelley thought it wasn't funny enough. After Fox asked him to make it better the second time around, Kelley and Katims overcompensated. This time there's more than enough yuks but too little dramatic heft.

In the opener, every bride is a wack job, to one degree or another, and some are out and out Bridezillas. That part is fine, but there has to be more to it.

"Bells" needs to be about more than pacifying that week's psycho bride (or her demanding mother), or it risks being an updated version of "The Love Boat." It needs regular flesh-and-blood relatable characters with depth and credible conflicts. And it needs stories that are absorbing and substantive and maybe a little different, none of which we get in tonight's premiere.

The show will gets a boost by following "American Idol" tonight and tapping into its huge audience. That's where the "something borrowed" comes in. Then "Bells" moves to 9 p.m. Fridays. That would be the "something blue" part.

"Bells," like "Grey's Anatomy," is a play on the last names of the main characters. It is about three sisters who take over the wedding business after their parents get divorced (and disappear from the face of the earth). Eldest sister Jane (Teri Polo) is the responsible one; middle sister Annie (KaDee Strickland) is trustworthy but has a romantic streak; youngest sister Sammy Bell (Sarah Jones) helps out when she's not bedding one groomsman or another.

Rounding out the cast are a frustrated wedding singer (Chris Williams), Jane's fussy husband and the business accountant (Benjamin King) and a wedding photographer (Michael Landes), whose affair with Annie, though officially ended, still smolders.

From a production standpoint, the show is outstanding. The sets are bright and convincing, and Jon Amiel, brought in to direct the pilot, makes the stories visually exciting. The wedding gift needed most, though -- some dimension and character development -- was left off the registry.

David E. Kelley Prods. in association with 29th Century Fox Television

Credits: Executive producers: David E. Kelley, Jason Katims, Jonathan Pontell; Creators-writers: Jason Katims, David E. Kelley; Director: Jon Amiel; Casting: Deb Aquila. Cast: Annie Bell: KaDee Strickland; Jane Bell: Teri Polo; Sammy Bell: Sarah Jones; David Conlon: Michael Landes; Russell Hawkins: Benjamin King; Ralph Snow: Chris Williams; Amanda Pontell: Missi Pyle.