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'Related' is all looks, no brains

We're supposed to think the four Sorelli sisters of ''Related" are TV characters.

They're all pretty and chirpy with shiny fashionista hair, and they share rituals that are absolutely precious, including a phone chain through which they make snarky observations about their father's girlfriends. They have sibling spats, but they always end up apologizing in cute, happy tears (featuring no-run mascara).

But don't be fooled. The WB's ''Related" is a TV commercial for lips, hair, and clothing products -- featuring four actresses, for those viewers who prefer a story with their images. The show, which premieres tonight at 9 on Channel 56, is like following advertising models beyond their 30-second spots, once they've left the cosmetic counter with a toss of their bouncy locks and hit the Upper East Side pavement. Aged 19-31, the Sorelli sisters have been given names -- Rose, Marjee, Ann, Ginnie -- but they're more like marketing labels for four slightly different demographics.

It's disappointing that ''Related" is so plastic, given its producing talent, including Marta Kauffman of ''Friends" and Liz Tuccillo of ''Sex and the City." Certainly, ''Related" keeps urging us to think that the Sorellis are adorable and lovable -- something ''Friends" also liked to do. But the harder ''Related" tries to convince you of this, the more you might want to resist. Likewise, you probably won't buy the show's assertions that a pristine Hollywood back lot is actually a gritty New York City.

Like ''Sisters," ''Related" is essentially a soap opera. All the expected melodramatic plots are set up in the dense first hour, including a surprise pregnancy, an unexpected breakup, and Dad's secret engagement. But the acting might fit into a sitcom more naturally than it does in a drama, not just because, as on ''Gilmore Girls," the Sorellis talkreallyfast, but because they're one-dimensional vehicles with an unfortunate leaning toward little-girl talk.

Rose (Laura Breckenridge) represents the college demographic. She's about to blow her family away by getting a pierced tongue, dying her hair blue, and shifting from pre-med to experimental theater. Marjee (Lizzy Caplan), 23, is a disaster-prone party planner who may have to move back in with Daddy. Ann (Kiele Sanchez), in her mid-20s, is a therapist in the throes of an ''it's-so-over-maybe" breakup. And Ginnie (Jennifer Esposito), 31, is a high-powered lawyer who finds that she is pregnant.

Unlike ''Lost," which airs opposite ''Related" on ABC, ''the show has no mystery or originality about it. You won't be waiting for a hatch to open on this show so much as you'll be wishing a few of them would just stay shut.

Matthew Gilbert can be reached at

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