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New series review: October Road (ABC)

Bryan Greenberg and Laura Prepon once fell hard for each other.

Premiering: Thursday (March 15) at 9:01 p.m. centeral (10:01 eastern) on ABC
Starring: Bryan Greenberg, Laura Prepon, Tom Berenger, Warren Christie, Evan Jones, Geoff Stults, Brad William Henke, Jay Paulson, Slade Pearce, Odette Yustman, Rebecca Field
Produced by: Scott Rosenberg, Gary Fleder, Andre Nemec, Josh Appelbaum, Peter Tortorici

The heartbreak of psoriasis hasn't yet merited a prime-time TV series. At long last, though, the insidious disease of writer's block rears its ugly head as a premise for ABC's October Road. Hell, it's a wonder this paragraph even got written.

Hem, haw, er, um, I, uh, what I'm really trying to say is . . .

Man, writer's block can strike the innocent at any second. Glad that's over.

October Road, supplanting Men In Trees in the comfy post-Grey's Anatomy slot, begins in a flashback-ready orange-ish haze. It's the summer of 1997 in Knights Ridge, Mass., where we first find Nick Garrett (Bryan Greenberg) and Hannah Daniels (Laura Prepon from That '70s Show) sharin' the sheets and other treats.

Too bad Nick's getting ready to go on a road trip, with firm assurances that he'll be back very soon. All of his friends gather to send him off with a song. October Road has lots and lots of background music, just in case you don't quite get the moods they're trying to set.

Nick ends up staying away a bit longer than expected -- 10 years. Under the pen name of Nicholson, he's written a bestselling novel titled Turtle On a Snare Drum. It's made him a bit of a big cheese in New York City, but Nick lately can't get the words out. So he bops back home to Knights Ridge and his old circle of friends, hoping to be inspired to write anew. Second verse, same as the first. Something like that.

Some of Nick's onetime high school cronies feel burned by his novel's thinly disguised depictions of them and their town. Ray "Big Cat" Cataldo (Warren Christie), now running a construction company, gigs Nick for "droppin' turds" on defenseless Knights Ridge.

Big Cat's also got a new kitten in Hannah, whose son, Sam (Slade Pearce), turns 10 in two months. Might Sam be the son of Nick? It turns out they're both severely allergic to peanuts, so there's a tipoff.

The town is full of other characters, none of them particularly memorable. Acting vet Tom Berenger, all bulked up now, plays Nick's short-spoken dad, also known as "The Commander." And there's a pudgy bartender named Janet "The Planet" Meadows (Rebecca Field), who in the second episode can't believe that sour but studly Eddie Latekka (Geoff Stults) might want to date her.

Also meet "Physical Phil" (Jay Paulson), who's been afraid to leave his home since Sept. 11. Dense Ikey (Evan Jones) seems like a harmless, smelly, Rob Schneider-ish beer-swiller. But he's got some sort of afternoon delight thing goin' on with the pretty wife of hail fellow Owen Rowan (Brad William Henke).

This is the kind of series where a stern small college dean (ex-24 star Penny Johnson Jerald) relents and gives Nick a teaching job after he throws rocks at her window in the dead of night and then sings a stanza from Oliver Twist. He otherwise chats up a comely student named Aubrey (Odette Yustman), a writer's block-buster if ever there was one.

October Road at least is often pretty to look at. Its fall colors, frame houses and uncluttered streets make for pictures worth a thousand words. Alas, much of the show's dialogue should have remained unspoken. Nick is particularly aggravating. Frankly, who gives a damn whether he feels fulfilled or not. Take those soulful puppy gazes someplace else, buddy.

For all of these reasons and more, October Road is very unlikely to be around next October. Sorry about that, writer's block. Further words are inadequate at times like these.

Grade: C-minus