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To be sung, if possible, to the tune of Nat "King" Cole's "Mona Lisa":

Maria Bello, Maria Bello, they have named you./You're TV's lady with the flirty, nasty smile. . . . /Do you smile to tempt us all to adore you?/Or are you just a cold and lonely, lovely work of art?

But enough unseemliness.

Bello's show is called "Mr. & Mrs. Smith." It's a dopey "Hart to Hart Meets I Spy" number -- or maybe the hugger-mugger, "Man From U.N.C.L.E." version of "Mr. and Mrs. North" (which, as everyone knows, was originally radio's knockoff of Dashiell Hammett's Nick and Nora Charles).

Believe me, "Mr. & Mrs. Smith" is in no danger of being brandished by quality-TV crusaders as a weapon in God's own war against the low and the meretricious. But I tell you, the thing has something. Check it out some Friday (9 p.m., Channel 4) and see if you don't agree.

Star and veteran prime-time hunk Scott Bakula is also the executive producer, so you have to assume that he had something, maybe everything, to do with putting it on the air and for finding the wondrous Maria Bello for us. Good move, that.

Over the years, I've come to realize that one of the things TV does well -- really, really, really well -- is give us sexy banter. Sometimes it's between sexy people who have perfected the intimate art of billing and cooing. Sometimes it's between sexy people who seem to be chucking spears and stilettos at each other but who actually can't wait until they get an opportunity to retire behind the nearest locked door and rip each other's duds off.

Think Sam and Diane in the early heyday of "Cheers" and you'll understand what I'm talking about.

Prime-time TV (a woman's medium in its deepest and most fiscal heart, let us never forget) has become so good at this that USA, the top-rated cable network, gets away weekly with the smarmy singles-bar version of it in "Silk Stalkings" and the new TV version of "The Big Easy." If you can tear yourself away from this evening's big network fare of hijacked schoolbuses, knockoff X-file paranoia and Barbara Taylor Bradford, you'll find that the high-gloss, hardbody Palm Beach detectives of "Silk Stalkings" are investigating the soft-core porn biz and the sparring partners on "The Big Easy" are in a family dysfunction mode.

In TV's industrial art of snappy sex banter, the beauteous Maria Bello may be the year's prime discovery.

Usually, whenever you see this sort of thing on television, it has no more edge to it than a clump of cotton candy. The most important thing about Sam and Diane on "Cheers," for instance, is that they were both certifiable 24-carat idiots, so that it couldn't possibly have mattered what they actually said. They were both what Archie Bunker used to call "dingbats."

It's the same with most of TV's seduction combatants.

Enter the gorgeous Ms. Bello, who has some real sting in her semi-flirtatious towel-snapping. It isn't pathetic rhetorical overkill, mind you, or even more pathetic self-delusion or misfired malarkey. But when she's supposed to be annoyed at Bakula's smirky superiority, damned if she doesn't seem to be genuinely annoyed. At long last, prime-time TV may actually have stumbled onto sex banter with attitude.

Let's put it this way, Maria Bello is probably as close as network TV is ever going to get to Linda Fiorentino.

After a few minutes of the very first show I thought to myself: "Say, this is interesting. Bakula is pretty good at this, but as great-looking as this woman is, she actually seems to have a canister of pepper spray somewhere in her emotional arsenal."

Every edition of "Mr. & Mrs. Smith" since has confirmed it. Stay tuned. A minor but solid contribution to the prime-time TV art of the endlessly protracted tease may be in the works here.

Meanwhile, Annie Potts was last seen in prime time as the co-teaser of the tasty but sadly doomed Diane English sitcom "Love and War," another stalwart in the recent history of network sex banter.

She has graduated. The all-new Annie Potts takes the Michelle Pfeiffer role in ABC's "Dangerous Minds" (8 p.m. Monday, Channel 7), an hourlong drama that, if nothing else, postulates teachers as the great heroes of American society. They may not do picturesque things like TV cops and doctors, but if they can't be celebrated with a few weekly hours of TV fantasy, maybe we ought to pack up Western civilization and call it a day.

One of the writing godfathers of "Dangerous Minds" is Ronald Bass, who significantly wrote the film "Rain Man" and is, of all things, the godfather of another show, the cop/shrink number "Moloney."

Judging from both shows thus far, the lion's share of Bass' efforts seem to have gone to "Moloney" because, despite the idiocy of the premise, it's a much better show than the overpraised "Dangerous Minds."

On "Moloney" (9 p.m. Thursday, Channel 4), Peter Strauss plays a psychiatrist who's also a cop, which is a little like Dan Aykroyd's old "Saturday Night Live" bit about the floor wax that's also a dessert topping. Wait. It gets worse. He also has to be flip and offhand and witty, which is, come to think of it, also a little like asking your favorite floor wax to be a dessert topping.

Among the other more bizarre twists of this particular TV season is that "Moloney," too, works, in its way. Strauss, a can of floor wax if ever there was one, isn't very good at being glib and flip and funny, but he seems to be so relieved that he's finally able to be that the show is enjoyable anyway. His relief is contagious.

It's no surprise that both "Moloney" and "Mr. & Mrs. Smith" are from CBS, which now seems resigned to its historic role as the purveyor of programming to the demographically incorrect. Bless them, they seem to have decided to opt out of the frantic competition to construct sitcoms out of acne cream and Huggies.

In the great war for TV advertising dollars, CBS' demographic position is usually considered a lemon.

Don't look now, but I think they're making lemonade. If they get any better, they'll be making whiskey sours -- a nice change, if you ask me, from the usual floor wax.

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