October 18, 1993 12:00 PM

NBC (Saturdays, 8:30 p.m. ET)

C +

Who can turn the world on with her smile? With this sitcom, Valerie Bertinelli (One Day at a Time) makes a bid to become the Mary Tyler Moore of the MTV generation. In the opening credits we even see her throw her hat jauntily into the air in the old MTM signature gesture. Except that Valerie’s hat is a beret and she’s standing by the Seine River.

See, this lady has left Minneapolis (Mary’s old stomping grounds) and an unhappy marriage for Paris and long-deferred dreams of bohemianism. Her rapid assimilation is somewhat hampered by her total inability to speak French. (What, they don’t have Berlitz in the Twin Cities?) Like Mary Richards, Bertinelli’s Holly Aldridge tries to act brave and unflappable, but we viewers know just how fragile she is. The only difference is that Val’s innocent is abroad—and marooned.

Like many shows this season, Cafe Americain tries to shoehorn in two or three too many eccentric supporting characters. The most ridiculous is Jodi Long as an exiled dictator’s widow from the Orient. “This disaster. Catastrophe,” she fumes. “Worst thing ever to happen to my royal self. They making TV movie about overthrow of my husband. You know who’s playing me? Delta Burke. Can’t wait to see her make a run for the chopper.”

In addition to contrived and unpleasant characters, another problem is that the scripts haven’t established any comic rhythm yet. (And they never will if they keep resorting to such labored puns as one about croque-monsieur.) Still, if anyone can drag along this balky mule of a show, it’s the irresistible Bertinelli. But she won’t be able to get it to canter.

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