She'll Make You Love Her

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If you are watching TV at 8 p.m. on a Friday, you are probably not on a date. You are perhaps not in a stable, committed relationship. Or you are in one — one so committed, so stable, that there you are on a Friday night watching the damn TV.

Kate Fox wants to help you, at least vicariously. No, Kate Fox needs to help you. A divorce lawyer who helps Los Angeles' richest narcissists weasel out of prenups, Kate also has a talent for matchmaking; three couples she introduced have got married. When one of the brides announces this tidbit at her wedding, it makes the newspaper's society column, and strangers start phoning Kate, asking her to shoot some love arrows their way. She's hesitant: "I'm a divorce lawyer, an ass kicker. People can't think of me as some romantic softy." But a softy she is, and soon she's pairing total strangers for her own karmic balance — and $1,000 a pop. Thus is born Miss Match, NBC's frothily appealing wish-fulfillment dramedy.


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In the process, Kate is also doing a good deed for Alicia Silverstone, the actress who plays her. Clueless, a 1995 teen comedy (in which she played, yes, a romantic-softy matchmaker), and her breakthrough jailbait performances in The Crush and a trio of Aerosmith videos made her a teenage "It" girl. But a few failed movies and a teensy weight gain later, she was on track to becoming a remembrance in a VH1 It Came from the '90s special. By design or by necessity, "I got off the fast track," the actress, 26, says now. "It was a lot at a young age -- from 14 until I was 21. I didn't have time for anything. I worked. Then I stopped and thought, Wait a second. Who am I? Where am I?"

In 2000 she switched gears with a role in Kenneth Branagh's film of Shakespeare's Love's Labour's Lost. Two years later, while playing Elaine in a Broadway production of The Graduate, Silverstone had dinner with Miss Match creator Darren Star (Sex and the City). "Alicia has the stuff that comediennes of the '30s and '40s had," says Star. "She is very likable, and it comes from a real place." Silverstone was drawn by Star's track record of complex female characters and the appeal of playing someone who "goes around sprinkling love dust on everybody." Indeed, you can see a parallel between beatific buttinsky Kate and Silverstone, a cheerfully proselytizing animal-rights do-gooder who eats no meat, eggs or dairy. (On the show, Kate is a vegetarian and won't wear leather or fur.)

The series in which Star cast Silverstone is unlike his HBO comedy in obvious ways (a TV-PG rating, for starters). But both are basically wish-fulfillment shows — with different body parts doing the wishing — about the desire to connect and the obstacles that modern life and career put in the way. Both are set in fantasy versions of city life — Miss Match, suitable to its tone, in a Sheryl Crow — scored Los Angeles rather than haute, edgy Manhattan. And it has Sex's astute sense of people's weirdnesses. Kate auditions a parade of lonely hearts, including a high-powered woman who treats it like a job interview: "I have extra helpings of everything the Scarecrow and the Tin Man were missing!" Miss Match could have been half as smart and still had a shot at its piece of the Bachelor-era zeitgeist.

Still, there is something potentially creepy about Miss Match's premise. When a co-worker asks Kate, "Has it ever occurred to you that some people actually enjoy being alone?", Kate responds with a swift, cheery "No." Brooking no objections, Kate is a radiantly relentless dictator of love. She's pretty, she's perky, she got her job through her rich lawyer daddy (Ryan O'Neal); we should hate her. But here is where Silverstone makes the show. Reese Witherspoon — Silverstone's successor as Hollywood's pixie of choice — has made a career of playing such characters (Election, Legally Blonde) with a stylized, satiric wink. Silverstone plays it perfectly straight and dares you to sneer instead of melt. And she wins. We ignore that most of Kate's setups fail and that, Cupid that she is, she can't see that her puppy-eyed architect client (David Conrad) is her dream guy. It makes no sense, but Silverstone's and Miss Match's charms make you see the show's flaws as strengths. That's love for you.