October 23, 2000 12:00 PM

CBS (Saturdays, 8 p.m. ET)

Hmm, where have we seen That’s Life before? The protagonist (Heather Paige Kent) is a bartender who upsets her working-class family by enrolling in college—sort of like the main character in FOX’s failed 1998 sitcom Costello, except she’s New Jersey Italian instead of Boston Irish. She has flashes of fantasy à la Ally McBeal. She’s singled out for instructive abuse by an imperious professor (Peter Firth) who’s a hard-drinking version of John Houseman in The Paper Chase. When classes are done and she returns to the old neighborhood, the show turns into a noncredit course in elementary ethnic stereotypes.

But here’s the funny thing about this new comedy-drama series: Kent brings so much spirit to the role of 32-year-old freshman Lydia DeLucca that the warmed-over material sometimes seems fresh. You’ll be inclined to appreciate the good casting (Paul Sorvino as Lydia’s father) and pardon the less apt (Ellen Burstyn as her mom). You’ll want to credit Sonny Marinelli’s capable performance as Lydia’s ex-boyfriend and excuse the dumb idea of calling the guy Lou Buttafucco (after formerly famous adulterer Joey Buttafuoco). But Kevin Dillon overacts unforgivably as Lydia’s boorish cop brother.

Bottom Line: Life could be better

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