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'Paper Dolls' has some pizazz but is slight on substance

By Arthur Unger / September 18, 1984



Manhattan is just Rodeo Drive on the Hudson, according to TV's newest attempt at Eastern sophistication. A superficial show about a superficial world is bound to result in superficial television viewing. What makes Paper Dolls (ABC, Sunday, Sept. 23, 9 -11 p.m.; thereafter Tuesdays, 9-10 p.m.) a hoot, however, is its earnest, charmingly naive try for something very East Coast, something ''intense'' (that's teen-age lingo in the series for something super). What is described by ABC and executive producer Leonard Goldberg as a new concept that focuses on the ''people, power, and passion in the exciting world of beauty and fashion'' simply turns Manhattan into an East Side Malibu.

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''Paper Dolls'' jumps right into its own version of that exciting world - jacket collars and background music are always turned up, teen-age models are always turned on, and almost no illicit offer is ever turned down.

If you listen carefully you can hear all the obvious signs of what used to be called ''in'': references to Elaine's, the tinkle of Bobby Short's music at the far end of the room, and people exclaiming ''Sonny Tufts!'' as some acerbic female nearby is introduced as ''the divine Jaws 4.''

''Why aren't you in the Manhattan directory?'' one paper doll is asked.

''Because I don't live in Manhattan,'' she replies.

''Not New Jersey. Anywhere but New Jersey,'' is the response.

Now that's sophistication!

''Paper Dolls'' concerns a model agency run by Racine and played with verve and gusto, if not subtlety, by Morgan Fairchild. The premiere plot revolves around a competition by teen-agers for modeling jobs, the problem of aging, career vs. abortion, etc. There are lots of name actors in the revolving cast, since it is planned that the series will be episodic a la ''Love Boat'' - Lloyd Bridges and Brenda Vaccaro are in the premiere.

The look of ''Paper Dolls'' is important, because, like its main characters, that's just about all it has going for it. Unfortunately, the women models don't seem to have the kind of cheekbones sought in the real world of modeling. The interiors are slick and Hollywoodized Manhattan. There are lots of authentic New York exteriors, but it isn't until the camera gets to Los Angeles that the show really comes to life. The most exciting moments are the modeling sessions - photographed with real flounce, fidget, and flair.

The ''Paper Dolls'' premiere leaves a lot of story lines up in the air - but that's supposed to keep you coming back for more. I suppose if the world of models intrigues you, there's some vague pleasure to be culled from the flash and surface pizazz of the show. But a quick flip through the pages of Vogue or even Seventeen should suffice - and it will certainly save you a lot of viewing time.