June 14, 2010 / 10:54 PM / 8 years ago

"Hot in Cleveland" should get warm reception

LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) - Even without Betty White in a guest role, it would be hard to see “Hot in Cleveland,” TV Land’s first original sitcom, as more than an update of her classic sitcom “The Golden Girls.”

Lifetime Achievement honoree Betty White arrives at the 16th annual Screen Actors Guild Awards in Los Angeles January 23, 2010. REUTERS/Phil McCarten (FILM-SAGAWARDS/ARRIVALS)

The show, premiering Wednesday, is also about three good women friends of a certain age who live together but have their own distinct outlooks on life, love and, especially, growing older. And just like “Golden Girls,” “Cleveland” boasts a dream cast of skilled performers: Wendie Malick, Jane Leeves and Valerie Bertinelli. They could coax laughs reading the fine print of a credit card agreement.

Perhaps the biggest challenge faced by writer/executive producer Suzanne Martin is putting this series in motion. How does one get three close friends, all of them thoroughly inculcated in the Los Angeles lifestyle, to decide simultaneously to begin life anew in Cleveland?

Martin’s far-fetched solution has them all flying to Paris for a once-in-a-lifetime vacation. Their plane inexplicably makes an emergency landing in Cleveland and, based on what they see in one bar on one night, they decide life is better along the banks of the Cuyahoga River.

Even Victoria Chase, Malick’s fading actress who presumably would be a fish out of Lake Erie, embraces the idea. The women are charmed by the fact that “everyone’s eating and no one’s ashamed.” They revel in the appreciative looks they get from men who, unlike those sissy Angelenos, actually look like men and know how to fix things. Even when one of those great Cleveland guys turns out to be a two-timer, his wonderfully sincere apology somehow becomes another justification to remain there.

Malick is the updated version of perennial femme fatale Blanche, played by the late Rue McClanahan. Leeves plays the levelheaded one, formerly the role of Dorothy, played by Bea Arthur. Bertinelli’s Melanie, a writer, is less naive and more astute than Betty White’s Rose, but then, who isn’t?

White is billed as a guest star in the premiere. She plays the longtime caretaker of the Cleveland house rented by the three friends. She also is the reincarnation of tart-tongued Sophia, formerly played by Estelle Getty. For that reason alone, this show won’t be the same without her.

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