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'EMERIL' LANDS WITH, NOT A BAM, BUT A THUD.

If Emeril Lagasse is hot and spicy on cable, then leave it to network TV to make him bland.

``Emeril,'' sadly, comes as previously advertised - a not-very-funny sitcom featuring a guy who doesn't really pretend to act, but since he's surrounded by blustery, cartoonish performances, he actually seems to be subtly underplaying.

Tonight's premiere isn't the pilot that had everyone sniggering over the summer. Instead, it's an episode that flogs to death the issue to which test audiences responded in the pilot: female body image and food.

Pinched, brittle network executive Trish (Tricia O'Kelley) starts a contest among Food Network programs. Each series must preach low-calorie recipes for a month. Fat - pun intended - chance for Emeril, who once included in a cookbook a recipe calling for two sticks of butter. The staffs of each show will compete to see who can lose the most weight in that period.

Naturally, this provokes Emeril's daffy colleagues, Cass (Lisa Ann Walter) and Melva (Sherri Shepherd), into paroxysms of pleasantly plump self-righteousness.

``As long as there is just one person who is willing to stand up and say that civilization cannot survive without smothered pork chops, homemade biscuits, rum-raisin ice cream and chocolate pie, then that light shall not live - and I'm going to be that person,'' Melva declares.

I played that line over repeatedly and I'm pretty sure it doesn't really make sense. But the studio audience - apparently bribed with a salt lick at every seat - bursts into ecstatic applause anyway.

Cass and Melva's message to America would be a healthy one, if they didn't spend the rest of the episode in absolute food worship. They slobber with almost erotic intent over a glazed ham (which makes for three in that scene). Robert Urich shows a similar lack of restraint as a character (introduced with a line that would fail you in Exposition 101 - ``You know, you're my manager,'' Emeril tells him) who blows hard on any subject that might cursorily be broached in his vicinity.

With such histrionics from his ``supporting'' cast, Lagasse is threatened to get hip-checked out of his own sitcom. Which in this case really wouldn't be such a bad thing.

``EMERIL''

What: Sitcom about the Food Network's spiciest chef.

The stars: Emeril Lagasse, Lisa Ann Walter, Sherri Shepherd, Robert Urich.

Where: NBC (Channel 4).

When: 8 tonight.

Our rating: One and one half stars

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Chef Emeril Lagasse's sitcom debut lacks fresh ingredients.
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Title Annotation:Review; L.A. Life
Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Article Type:Television Program Review
Date:Sep 25, 2001
Words:408
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