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JENNY MCCARTHY'S DEBUT IS, LIKE, OK, BUT HER NEXT EPISODE IS WAY LAME

As her new NBC show, "Jenny" (8:30 p.m. Sunday, Channel 2), is about to hit the air, I get the sense that the world is, like, totally sick of Jenny McCarthy.

The bodacious former star of MTV's "Singled Out" and last year's MTV sketch comedy show "The Jenny McCarthy Show" has had more than her 15 minutes of fame. Much more.

Her show arrives with a huge amount of baggage to overcome. To be perfectly honest, I expected "Jenny" to be dreadful. That was just based on the plot summary.

Jenny is a native of Utica who heads to Los Angeles with her good buddy Maggie (Heather Paige Kent). They make the move after Jenny discovers that the dear dead dad she never knew, an actor named Guy Hathaway (George Hamilton), left her a house in Hollywood.

"Who is this Guy, and how drunk was my mother?" she asks.

The idea is that Jenny is a naive fish out of water who is about to swim with the sharks -- real estate agents, actors, filmmakers -- in California. She and Maggie are so from Hicksville that they think they have to tip a realtor after she gives them a soft drink.

You gotta love the idea that an actress whose career got a huge boost after she bared all in Playboy is playing someone so naive.

That said, Sunday's pilot isn't as bad as I expected. There are a few good lines, most of which come from a video will that the dead guy made for his daughter.

But next week's second episode -- in which Jenny tries to fit in by getting her tongue pierced and ends up sounding like Bugs Bunny -- is so lame that it leaves one speechless.

We're supposed to see McCarthy as the next Lucille Ball, who enjoys doing physical comedy.

But McCarthy has an annoying voice, Kent gets most of the sharp lines, and the women are saddled with two male filmmaker roommates, Max (Rafer Weigel) and Cooper (Dale Godboldo), with sooooo little personality.

They're around to show Jenny and Maggie the ropes at parties.

"This is how bored I am," Jenny says after the guys invite the girls to an A-list party next week. "OK."

The first two episodes aren't a promising start for McCarthy, who first got tongues wagging about her Playboy spread before routinely sticking her tongue out more than Michael Jordan.

"People are going to see a much broader and wider variety of what I can do, instead of just sticking my tongue out," McCarthy promised in an interview in Los Angeles. "They'll see a serious side. A friendship, and a growing side, and even a little shyness, a little naiveness."

If McCarthy has anything going for her, it's her lively personality. And chutzpah. She addressed the issue of her work for Playboy head on.

To hear her tell it, some mystical force pulled her over to Hugh Hefner's address, and before she knew it, her clothes were off.

"I did Playboy because I had to," explained McCarthy. "I don't consider myself at all a sexual being."

Because Playboy doesn't exactly force beautiful, buxom women to shed their clothes, a critic asked her to explain what she meant by having to do it.

"I did it because I was working in a grocery store," said McCarthy. "I had to leave college because I was broke. I went into some agencies, because I was desperate to do this as my career. Every single agency -- four of them -- turned me down, saying I would just never make it. 'Ever, ever, ever' were the words. And I actually walked out of the last office and cried.

"Across the street was this big gold bunny, and I went, 'Jenny, no, no.' All of a sudden, my body started walking there. You know how people say they 'became Lisa' or some other person? That's exactly what happened.

"A larger force, and I call it destiny, brought me in the door, moved my mouth and took the robe off and did it. The next thing thing I know, I'm looking at these incredibly airbrushed pictures of myself going, 'Oh, my God.'

"I am grateful, because it got me out to L.A., but it wasn't something that I was always dreaming to do. And obviously my Catholic family went crazy. My mom: 'Jenny, what are the neighbors going to say?' But we got through it, and now they're really, really proud of me."

After listening to that story, I wanted to stick my tongue out. On the other hand, if McCarthy could tell a story like that to 100 cynical critics with a straight face, you have to be impressed by her acting ability.

To hear McCarthy tell it, she had to overcome that Playboy spread to get her job with MTV, which had a policy against hiring Playmates. She added that she told the press immediately after her Playmate of the Year tour that she wouldn't be posing nude anymore.

"It was the key to open the door, and that's all it was going to be," said McCarthy. "It didn't make me feel better. It didn't -- what do those woman say, that it makes them feel free? It liberates them. It did nothing for me, nothing in the liberating sense, but it did everything as far as getting into show business."

She isn't ashamed of the pictures.

"Absolutely not," said McCarthy. "I'm going to hang these things up when I'm 90. I have a little bit of harshness towards it just because of all the stereotyping that I got. Hearing all the things that I've heard, it's hard. It takes a toll. It scars you. But I'm still proud and I am still friends with Hef. And he's fine with it, that I don't want to pose for Playboy anymore."

Besides, Hef is still making millions off McCarthy. A few weeks before NBC sent along its revised version of "Jenny" for review, Playboy sent a revised video of "Jenny McCarthy: The Playboy Years" from "deep inside Playboy's film vaults."

I didn't want to watch it, but a larger force put it into my VCR. For research purposes. In about 10 minutes, I realized that there's more videotape of "Lisa-Jenny" than there is of her dead dad on "Jenny." There she is in various provocative poses, dancing to some "world premiere" videos. The devil must have made her do it.

One expects the shelf life of Playboy's Jenny will be much longer than NBC's sitcom version.

Rating: 2 stars out of 5.

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