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NBC's promising "First Years" focuses on the struggles of recent law school grads.

Living the Law

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Think of it as "L.A. Law" with a dash of MTV and a soup‡on (that's French for "a trace," so don't get your hopes up) of "Sex and the City" and "Will & Grace."

The show is "First Years," which debuted recently on NBC-TV. The network's thinking must have gone something like this: Shows about law firms usually attract viewers, so one that focuses on young lawyers who just graduated should attract that most magical demographic of them all — the twentysomething viewer. And with a little straight sex and a hint of a whisper of an innuendo about homosexuality thrown in, it'll be that much better.

Oddly enough — and anytime one of the major networks thinks rationally, it's odd enough —"First Years" is fairly good TV.

But before you give too much credit where not so much is due, you should know that the series is loosely based on the hit British series "This Life."

Here's the setup for the program. Five first-year law graduates are working hard to get their careers started at a San Francisco firm. They're newbies, so they get all the grunt work and none of the glory, which means that we'll rarely see any of them actually practicing law. Most of the time they're assisting associates with more experience, doing things like researching case law and drafting briefs.

Meanwhile, all five are struggling to pay off their student loans, so four of them economize by sharing a run-down house in the Haight-Ashbury district. The plots so far have successfully mixed their professional, domestic and love lives.

There's a little something for every taste in the cast of "First Years." There's Samantha Mathis ("American Psycho") as the pretty blonde, Anna Weller. She's straightforward, career-oriented to a fault, fearless and independent. She's the one who lives on her own. Mackenzie Astin ("The Last Days of Disco") is the ginger-haired gay man, Warren Harrison, who wears a tight little mustache and beard. He's the most stable member of the group and makes no bones about his sexual orientation, but he sees himself as something of an outsider. (Astin is the son of actors Patty Duke and John Astin.)

Sydney Tamiia Poitier ("Noah's Ark") is Riley Kessler. (Yes, her father is Sidney Poitier.) Kessler is the grounded type, perhaps the maturest person in the group. James Roday ("Ryan Caulfield: Year One") plays Kessler's love interest, Edgar "Egg" Ross, an endearing little-boy-lost type with a trace of the young Ricky Nelson in his speech and mannerisms. Ross' parents, Peace Corps types, are bewildered by his decision to become a lawyer, and frankly, so is Ross at times. Ken Marino ("Men Behaving Badly") is Egg's best friend, Miles Lawton. He brings a bit of charm and mainstream good looks to the ensemble. And finally, Eric Schaeffer ("If Lucy Fell") plays the associates' acerbic mentor, Sam O'Donnell.

It's a good mix, and the cast members play well against each other.

With its entertaining mix of comedy and drama, weirdness and social responsibility, "First Years" might have a future in NBC's lineup. It's not great TV yet, but if it keeps on going as it has, it may just get

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