- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 9, 2002

Pity poor Emma Brody. The pretty heroine of the new Fox drama "The American Embassy" has it pretty rough.

She has a good job in a glamorous city. She wears great clothes and goes to fancy parties. Dashing men drool over her.

It must be a living hell. Otherwise, why would Emma, played by Arija Bareikis, spend so much time whining about it?

In the first episode of "American Embassy," airing at 9 p.m. Monday on WTTG-TV (Channel 5), Emma, a beautiful blond Yank, decides to make a fresh start abroad after she discovers her boyfriend has been cheating on her.

She takes a job as a vice consul at the U.S. Embassy in London, but the experience doesn't seem to make her very happy. The episode unfolds in a series of flashbacks as Emma writes a letter to her kid sister back home and explains how she is settling into her new life.

She complains their mother, who had the nerve to tell Emma how much she loved her before Emma departed for London, is too smothering. Then Emma whines about being embarrassed when she is caught locking lips in an airplane lavatory with a handsome stranger.

Later, she mopes after flirting with a British lord who is engaged to another woman. "Do I have a genetic attraction to unfaithful men?" she sighs in the letter to her sister.

Self-centered Emma Brody will remind you a lot of the title character from "Ally McBeal," the show "American Embassy" will replace for the next few weeks on Fox's Monday schedule.

"American Embassy" was originally called "Emma Brody" and conceived as a kind of "Ally McBeal Goes to London." Then the September 11 terrorist attacks made patriotism cool again.

The producers reportedly retooled the show to focus on Emma's workplace, an office where, according to Fox's publicity materials, "the challenges of America's controversial role in the world of nations is an everyday reality."

Yeah, right. And "Ally McBeal" is about the American legal system.

If the producers really want to avoid making "American Embassy" another career-gal-in-the-big-city show, they might want to explain what it is embassies do.

The first episode makes it look as though these agencies do nothing but baby-sit Americans who behave badly abroad. Emma, for example, is charged with caring for a runaway girl caught in an international custody dispute and also a tourist who runs out of money and strips in the embassy's lobby so the authorities will arrest him and ship him back to the States.

The naked American turns out to be quite a philosopher and offers sad-eyed Emma this profound thought: "Living is about making mistakes, Emma. Dying is about wishing you had made more."

Oh brother.

All this silliness concludes with an unexpectedly violent ending that seems to come from left field. We won't give it away here, but the twist may remind you of the early days of "Saturday Night Live," when every sketch didn't necessarily have a beginning, middle and end.

Back then, once the comic payoff was delivered, some sketches would end abruptly, a technique referred to as "dropping the cow."

The producers of "The American Embassy" drop a cow at the end of the first episode. The problem is viewers will have stopped caring long before old Bessie hits the ground.


**

What: "American Embassy"

Where: Fox (WTTG-TV, Channel 5)

When: 9 p.m. Monday

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS


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