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We'd prefer old Elaine to Old Christine Add to ...

At long last, Elaine has come back to us, but then again, not really.

Former Seinfeld diva Julia Louis-Dreyfus returns to television this evening, and happy to report she's adorable as before. She's still exactly like Elaine, not that there's anything wrong with that. Elaine was a grand TV character and Louis-Dreyfus seems to be a sharp lady. So why does she keep signing on to comeback shows that are obviously a bad idea?

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The New Adventures of Old Christine (CBS, CH, 9:30 p.m.) is the latest comeback vehicle for Louis-Dreyfus. Her former cast-mate Jason Alexander has so far tried to shake the post- Seinfeld curse with two sitcoms -- both bombs.

Seinfeld player Michael Richards, aka Kramer, gave up after one sitcom attempt; Jerry retired to raise a family. This is Louis-Dreyfus's second kick at the can and while I'm convinced everyone wants her back on television, Old Christine falls short of the task.

She tried it three years ago with NBC's Watching Ellie. It was a strange TV experiment that started out as a real-time comedy without a laugh track and quickly evolved into a slapstick sitcom with Louis-Dreyfus way out of her element as a dizzy club singer. The writers even gave her a cadre of wacky male friends, in a limp effort to recapture the Seinfeld dynamic.

Ellie was truly awful, but at least Louis-Dreyfus had a chance to sing -- she's surprisingly good -- and she was playing a single woman unlucky in love, which elicited brief flashes of Elaine.

There's precious little of Elaine evident on Old Christine, which miscasts Louis-Dreyfus as a single mother. The cumbersome title pretty much spells out the setup: She is the Old Christine, whose husband has paired up with another woman named Christine, which makes her the New Christine. This leaves Old Christine to raise a precocious eight-year-old son, which mom squeezes in between her job owning and operating a health club. Stop me when any of this starts to sound like Elaine.

Louis-Dreyfus, bless her, is at least game for the challenge. You can actually see her trying to work some of that old Elaine spunk into the show, but she can't pull it off. And it's traceable to the source: CBS is the TV repository for safe, old-school sitcoms -- like Everybody Loves Raymond, Yes, Dear et al. -- in which families goof around but deep down they really love each other a whole bunch.

In the case of Old Christine, it's jarring to see Louis-Dreyfus as the woman who, let's say it, was dumped and left with the kid. At the same time, Old Christine appears to be cranked out of the same feel-good assembly line as Raymond and it's unsettling to see her situated among such decent people.

Everybody on the show is painfully nice. The patrons at the gym are nice.

The ex-husband is a super guy and supportive father who shows up at the son's first day of school. Aw. The New Christine is, of course, a babe, but she's a babe with a good heart, so even Old Christine can't help but like her. We are family.

Everyone on Old Christine is so darn nice that Elaine never has a chance to surface. Viewers will forever know Louis-Dreyfus as Elaine and associate her only within the Seinfeld tableau. And Elaine was always in control, more or less, in that world. She was the take-charge New York gal who inspired either fear or desire in her weak male companions. Sometimes both. Elaine was a tough cookie, but Old Christine is just tired.

Elsewhere, kindly observe a moment of silence for the loss of a loved one. There has been a death in the immediate family on 24 (Fox, 9 p.m.; Global, 10 p.m.) and life simply won't be the same any more on the real-time drama. Edgar is gone.

The untimely demise of Edgar Styles was one of this season's most stunning TV events, qualifying right up there with last night's sixth-season opener of The Sopranos. Certainly it was a shock seeing what happened to Tony Soprano, but the death of Edgar was somehow a more poignant affair.

Last week's 24 was a two-hour outing, which almost always means bad news for someone on the show. It was genuinely nerve-wracking television. In the closing moments, the CTU building was under nerve-gas attack by terrorists; all the principal characters scampered into an enclosed area -- except for computer whiz Edgar (Louis Lombardi). Edgar stumbled in too late, took one last, longing look at his co-worker Chloe (Mary-Lyn Rajskub) through the Plexiglas shield and then he dropped like a stone.

It was a dark day for 24 fans. Edgar was a cuddly, bearlike character and one of few regulars carried over from the previous season. He was simply an average guy who was very good at his job. He even looked and acted like someone named Edgar. And you just know he was secretly in love with Chloe. From the stricken expression on her face last week, Chloe cared about Edgar, too, in her own abrasive way. Killing off such a beloved character may seem an odd way to hold an audience, but Edgar's death was not without purpose.

In storytelling terms, the coldness behind Edgar's death is in keeping with the 24 tradition of giving that big midseason jolt to viewers, presumably to keep them engaged for the next 12 hours.

Remember: Around this time last year, the midway point of 24 was marked with another two-hour episode that concluded with terrorists scoring a direct missile hit on Air Force One -- with the President aboard. He survived, but the sheer audacity of the act certainly had people talking. It wasn't the sort of story twist you normally saw on TV -- particularly after Sept. 11 -- but it surely kept viewers coming back.

It's the sort of shrewd, near-ruthless strategy that continues to pull in new 24 followers, who likely want to see what everyone else is buzzing on about. That's why each episode opens with a concise recap of the previous week's activities.

Events continue to unfold at breakneck pace on tonight's follow-up, in which the CTU staffers are faced with the problem of escaping an enclosed office surrounded by nerve gas. Sadly, there will be no time to mourn Edgar, but the big fella shall be dearly missed.

Dates and times may vary across the country. Check local listings.

John Doyle returns on March 22.

jaryan@globeandmail.com

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