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`Everything's Relative': fast-paced gags keep the show's laugh track puffing

Everything's Relative CBS, tonight, 8:30-9 p.m. Premi`ere of new comedy series. ``This new toothpaste tastes terrible,'' says Scott, as he steps from the bathroom foaming at the mouth.

``That's not toothpaste, it's shaving paste,'' his brother Julian says.

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These are the jokes, folks, and you might as well get used to them, because after only one episode into this new series you can see a line of mistaken-product gags reaching into the future.

Julian's business, you see, is testing consumer items. Since he and his brother Scott - a construction worker and 25-year-old hunk - live together, Scott is a likely guinea pig. Scott stands in contrast to his older brother, a likable yuppie nerd carrying a torch for his ex-wife. Mickey, a young errand-runner for the brothers, may hero-worship Scott, but Julian looks on Acott's marathon girl-chasing in semi-tolerant bemusement. The brothers' loving conflict makes for a breezy and agreeable if routine series relying on fast-paced gags and an overactive laugh track that makes you feel you've missed something whenever you find the humor lagging.

The familiarity of the brother relationship comes as a relief after the contrived formats of some other new comedies this season. In ``Everything's Relative'' the gags can flow freely, because we all recognize the setup from the start.

That's also true of Julian's contacts with his business partner, Emily - who says her wedding gown's been in the trunk of her car ever since Julian's divorce - and of Julian's ex-wife, whose romantic overtures form the plot of this premi`ere and lead to a hoked-up dinner party.

As Rae - an appealing Jewish-mother type who reminds you of Rhoda's mom - Anne Jackson adds a character credibility missing from the rest of the show, which in general seems overeagaer to strike instant comic pay dirt. Yes, I know gags are the point in a show like this, but the show needs the occasional ballast of more thoughtful moments. There was a potential poignancy in Julian's visit with his ex-wife, for instance, that could have lent an edge to the humor of this opening show.

Jason Alexander - looking and sounding like a young George Burns and wearing a squint that seems to be viewing life from far off and almost laughing - plays Julian with low-key effectiveness but with too mock-comic a tone. On the other hand, Jackson as Rae appears to be trying less for quick laughs than for something much harder to achieve and more valuable in any series, comedy or otherwise: She finds the humor in the character itself. In other words, she's real.

Meanwhile, when in doubt the show can always turn to those test-products for routines and ready gags - like the letters that arrive at Julian's office commenting on the bad toothpaste.

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Let's see, here's one from a user who says he likes it - for sealing cracks in his sink. And how about that sushi-on-a-stick idea? And wait a minute, Scott - I know that stuff you're drinking looks like soda, but actually it's liquid cat food....

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