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Eccentricity with a Heart

"Everwood" pulls in viewers past its quirky surface.

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Most television is derivative, but to say that "Everwood" reminds me of the late, beloved "Northern Exposure" is not to say "Everwood" is a clone. Not at all. But it's got that, as the French say, "je ne sai quoi" that often intrigues, sometimes mystifies and inevitably satisfies a primal longing for peace, simplicity and goodness of heart - with a leavening dash of the idiosyncratic to keep us alert.

(You've got to hand it to French. What other language could export a phrase to express the ineffable that translates literally, word for word, as "I don't know what?")

There's also a light-handed spirituality to the show that comforts. It's hard to think of another series that would give us an episode in which a 9-year-old girl finds evidence of the existence of God in the gas tank of a motorcycle.

"Everwood" is named for the small town where it happens, Everwood, Colo. A real estate agent would call it charming and picturesque and then up the price at least 10 percent because snowcapped Rockies are everywhere you look.

Dr. Andrew Brown (Treat Williams) — a top New York City neurosurgeon — abandoned his lucrative practice and moved his young daughter and teenage son to Everwood after his wife died. Now he's operating a free clinic in competition with the town's other physician, Dr. Harold Abbott, who resents the intrusion. Pouring salt on the wound, Dr. Brown has hired Dr. Abbott's motorcycle-riding mama, Edna (Debra Mooney), as his office assistant. Edna is the polar opposite of her hidebound son. After her first husband died, she married Irv (John Beasley), a black man (seemingly the only one on Everwood's pristine white landscape). When it's called for, Irv provides the series' narration.

Dr. Brown's daughter, Delia, quickly settles into the Everwood routine — she's the one who thinks God exists because Edna's motorcycle ran farther than it should have with next to no gas in the tank — but his son, Ephram (Gregory Smith), is proving to be a handful. He resents the death of his mom, he resents being jerked out of New York and planted in small-town Colorado and he's way too cool for Everwood's high school. Plus, he's in love with a girl whose boyfriend is in a coma.

Eccentricity can only take a series so far, however. Beneath the quirky surface, there has to be a bond both among the characters and between the players and the audience. "Everwood" is a success on both fronts. Williams provides a moral center to the series as he searches for his own, now that his wife is gone and he's all his family has. Vivien Cardone, as young Delia, represents an innocence that questions everything. And Smith, as Ephram, brilliantly walks the line between teenage angst and filial support when it's needed. The relationship between Ephram and his father, in fact, provides the show's most memorable and emotionally satisfying moments — a heavy burden for a young actor, but one young Smith handles with cool and winning composure.

Everwood, Colo., is, of course, imaginary — an impossibly, gently seductive town in a world where seduction has a far more complicated connotation. But if it were real, you could do far worse than hop a Greyhound bus and head west. S



"Everwood" airs at 2 a.m. Sunday mornings on WWBT-TV.



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