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"First Years' feels too secondhand to survive long

Just when you think the TV networks have learned an important lesson, they turn around and prove you wrong.

How wrong? Check out First Years, a new series about a quintet of first-year lawyers at a gigantic San Francisco law firm that feels like a leftover from the days when the Big Three networks were chasing the WB demographic.

Once upon a time, the networks dabbled heavily in such shows, with names like Wasteland and Freaks and Geeks. All were gone within a year, once broadcasters realized that what works for the youth-oriented WB might not fly for broadcasters who need viewers old enough to buy their own car.

Still, First Years has nailed the formula: Coming-of-age stories featuring too-smart, too-young actors. Storylines based on impetuous upstarts beating the system. Lots of flighty talk about the meaning of life and the frustrations of being an attractive twenty-something in a big city with a good job.

As the show unfolds, we quickly learn the character types: Riley (Sydney Tamiia Poitier) is a biracial woman who tackles an adoption case involving a black felon fighting to keep a white couple from adopting her child.

Riley's live-in boyfriend, Egg (James Roday), is the funny oddball: quick with a quip and always wearing untucked casual shirts under his suits. Warren (Mackenzie Astin) is a bookish gay man who feels excluded from the group; Miles (Ken Marino) is the pretty boy attracted to Anna (Samantha Mathis), a promiscuous beauty who can't admit her own attraction to him.

This is the show's biggest asset: a great-looking, charismatic cast that includes showbiz kids Poitier (daughter of screen legend Sidney Poitier) and Astin (son of Patty Duke and John Astin).

Mostly, they run around doing scutwork; poring through records, writing drafts of motion statements, meeting with clients the big-time lawyers don't want to handle.

In the series' first two episodes, the creators make such circumstances interesting. But it's tough to imagine how compelling this stuff will be week after week.

And there are too many clunkers: Poitier and Mathis, two of the most beautiful young women in television, fret about their age while representing two teenage dot-com millionaires; a client dying of cancer says he can pick up women easily because "chicks dig" the death vibe; Mathis' Anna wins a burping contest.

When truly interesting shows such as Third Watch and Gideon's Crossing are floundering, it's tough to imagine First Years making the grade with audiences spoiled by a flood of quality TV dramas.

Don't be surprised if these first-year lawyers don't get a second chance.

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