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Nothing sets off my bullshit detector quicker than a "hit" show that hasn't even been on the fucking air yet -- like Felicity, whose pre-premiere commercials declared it "the season's biggest hit" or some such nonsense. Excuse me, but in my dictionary, a "hit" is defined as "something that has been successful." The WB, however, apparently has its own vocab. First the overhyped Dawson's Creek, now the overhyped Felicity, which invites comparisons to watercooler shows like Ally McBeal and Beverly Hills 90210. At least Buffy was a genuine WB hit, a slow starter whose fan base snowballed into an X-Files level of worship. But Felicity is what my dictionary defines as "a marketing hit" -- something that's referred to as a hit before it becomes a hit, and becomes a hit because it's been referred to as a hit. Which sums up Hollywood in a nutshell.

All of this is on my mind instead of the show itself, which is a bad sign for the show. Felicity isn't as self-conscious or grating as Dawson's Creek, but then few shows are. Neither is it especially compelling. I'm not sure why we're supposed to care about Felicity Porter (Keri Russell), an honors high-school grad who travels 3,000 miles to go to the same New York college attended by some guy she barely knows but is smitten with. Are we supposed to find this romantic and endearing? Sounds like a stalker to me.

Turns out, of course, that Felicity isn't just there to pine for her crush (Scott Speedman), who in any case is going out with someone else. No, she's on a journey of self-discovery. Her rich parents wanted her to go to an approved university to follow Dad's footsteps in medicine; she'd rather stay in New York, see what the snow looks like in the city (probably pretty gross: it's a city), and maybe get serious about her hobby as an artist. This sort of new beginning usually has more weight when it's a fortysomething woman starting over after a divorce. There's something depressing in the idea of an 18-year-old working on building a self two weeks into her first semester. Felicity seems like the sort of sweet, nice, conscientious kid the mass audience will be comfortable with.

The press seems to be as smitten with Keri Russell as Felicity is with her dream guy. It's hard to assess her talent on the basis of this role; if this actress has any edges, they've been sanded down here. Russell is cute and fumbly in a way that's supposed to tug at your affection, but to me, in the pilot episode, she's just a good-natured blur. The rest of the cast, including Scott Foley as a dorm adviser who's warm for Felicity's form and the perpetually unhappy-looking Amy Jo Johnson as Felicity's new friend, didn't particularly jump out at me as talents to watch. Janeane Garofalo is heard but not seen as Felicity's former French tutor -- they mail audiotaped letters to each other -- and the snap and experience in her voice puts her in-the-flesh castmates to shame.

Felicity might get half a point of good will if it had been created by a woman looking back fondly on her college days; it'd still be sappy, but such nostalgia is forgivable. But the show is actually the brainchild of a few wishful-thinking guys. Ron Howard is among the producers, who also include J.J. Abrams (who wrote the pilot) and Matt Reeves (who directed it). If the latter two names don't ring a bell, Abrams was one of many cooks spoiling the overheated broth of Armageddon; in a previous stage in his career, he was Jeffrey Abrams, writer of the cloying Regarding Henry. Reeves, meanwhile, directed the weirdly dark-toned David Schwimmer flop The Pallbearer, and his work on Felicity has a similar static gloominess, as if he thought he were interpreting Eugene O'Neill. So Felicity is a male ideal of a young heroine: smart, but not brilliant enough to scare off the audience; independent in a fuzzily abstract way; apparently virginal and uninterested in parties, beer, drugs, or anything that might upset Ron Howard. Then again, the show is young: we may yet see Very Special Episodes in which Felicity smokes her first spliff and buys her first condoms.

The bottom line with Felicity, as with any show, is: (A) Do I want to spend one hour a week with these people, and (B) do I care about the themes and conflicts established in the pilot? Dawson's Creek flunked this test with me, and so does Felicity, with its crippling good taste and its utter lack of understanding of what makes good TV drama. It's a very delicate flower, this show, and though the delicateness could conceivably work for it, I don't think it does. (It looks especially anemic airing right after Buffy.) Romantic yearning, freshman jitters, a young woman's search for identity -- all perfectly valid issues, if only they weren't used in such a synthetic attempt to snuggle into our hearts. And do we really want to watch Felicity deal with her feelings for the inaccessible stud over an entire season or beyond? I don't. And I won't.