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'Years' Has Viewers Guessing

A time-shifting gimmick keeps the new Showtime series Leap Years
from melding into the sameness of primetime soap operas in the tradition of Dallas
and Falcon Crest.
The twist here is that viewers can observe the drama's key characters in 1993, 2001 and 2008. The conceit could be a great retention tool.

In each episode, hints are dropped about great interactions between the principals you have yet to see: What did the drug-addled singer do at the White House? What did the developer's dad to get his son so
irritated?

But are those plot lines compelling enough to overcome a love triangle that totally lacks in chemistry and the clunky, expository scenes needed to catch viewers up when the decades shift? The need for explanation led to one embarrassing scene in the two-hour introduction, in which one character had to explain to another that she tripped and fell because she's going blind.

The series is built around five characters. Four went to college together; the fifth is introduced to the rest at a party that opens the series. The archetypes: Gregory, the playwright/artist who will sell out (Garret Dillahunt); Joe Rivera, the avaricious attorney who remembers but does not honor where he came from (Bruno Campos); Josh, the angry-at-daddy rich kid (David Julian Hirsh); Beth (Nina Garbiras), love interest to both Josh and Joe; and the binder for them all, the fiery singing slut Athena (Michelle Hurd).

The launch pad is a party at Athena's, broken up by gun-wielding pizza delivery men. That's when Joe and Josh both begin their lifelong competition over Beth and when a traumatized Athena ends up in the arms of Greg. But the conflict feels manufactured, and the acting is, well, acting. There are no realistic sparks between Beth and Joe.

The series shows the most potential in the futuristic episodes, when the characters are more mature and the writers get creative with the trappings seven years hence. It also offered an intriguing vision of things like video games and ultrasound technology.

The series debuts July 29 at 10 p.m. before settling into its regular 10:45 p.m. Sunday time slot.

Also worth a visit: The first year of Cool Women
on WE: Women's Entertainment seemed to lack context. But the second season features some intriguing activists and interviews with the women they influenced. Subjects include the co-founder of Habitat for Humanity, the founder of a prisoner's art program and the owner of a women's professional football team.

Each episode includes performances by such talent as Luther Vandross, Pat Benatar and Dolly Parton.

The first of 13 new episodes debuts July 25.