'Embassy' adds to Fox frivolity

Given its classy title and posh locale, you would think that "The American Embassy" (8 p.m., Fox) might depart from the Fox formula of smarmy sex and self-absorption. But you would be wrong. How bad is "Embassy"? At times it makes the execrable "Boston Public" seem downright subtle.

Television newcomer Arija Bareikis stars as Emma Brody, a pretty 20-something who takes a position as a vice consul in the American Embassy in London. It's her job to help Americans abroad who might have visa issues, money problems or run-ins with the local authorities. But in the narcissistic tradition of "Ally McBeal," "Embassy" is not about Brody's job, but her feelings. In tonight's episode she spends almost all of her free time writing angst-ridden e-mails to her sister, which we hear through her voice-over. This provides a not-so-clever means of having Emma use the words "me," "myself" and "I" on a steady basis.

In true Fox fashion, "Embassy" wastes no time getting to sex. Emma almost joins the mile-high club on her flight to London. But she thinks better of having sex on an airline toilet with hunky Doug (David Cubitt), who later turns out to be a CIA agent. On her first morning on the job, she is assigned to a dislocated American who decides to take off all of his clothes and seek naked asylum. And isn't it just Emma's luck that her assigned roommate insists on having loud, wall-rattling intercourse at all hours.

Despite its London backdrop, Emma and the rest of the gang might as well be on some fancy campus, corporate park or an alumni night at Hollywood High. The city's history, culture and architecture go unnoticed. Oh, Emma does describe her apartment building as kind of "scary." Her embassy boss obsesses about American football, and the gang play a game of touch in Hyde Park. By my estimation, Emma has only three conversations with genuine Britons during this first hour. One of them turns out to be her fabulous neighbor, a drag queen, with whom she shares clothes.

All of this would be merely annoying if this debut episode did not conclude with a terrorist bomb attack. Emma even manages to turn this tragedy, filmed in gauzy slow motion, into a metaphor for her own self-actualization. Using a newsworthy bombshell to add pathos and weight to "Embassy's" petty soft-porn narrative might be obscene, but it's hardly novel. It happens almost every week on "Boston Public."

Tonight's other highlights

� Cheryl Ladd, Bess Armstrong and William Moses star in the cable drama "Her Best Friend's Husband" (8 p.m., Lifetime).

� A "Saturday Night Live" veteran hosts his own live sketch show, "Colin Quinn" (8:30 p.m., NBC).

� Eleven new contestants use the globe as their own private play pen on "Amazing Race 2" (9 p.m., CBS).

� Got a ratings problem? Trot out the lesbian episode! Jessie develops feelings for another girl on "Once and Again" (9 p.m., ABC).

� "Saturday Night Live Remembers John Belushi" (9 p.m., NBC) presents clips and recalls the comedian who died in March 1982.

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