`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.

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.

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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