'Joey' Transplants 'Friendly' Fun to L.A.

The big news: They didn't screw it up.

Smoothly and amusingly, "Joey" (search) picks right up where "Friends" (search) left off last May.

On the premiere (airing 8 p.m. EDT Thursday on NBC) Joey Tribbiani arrives in Hollywood to pursue his acting career and hang out with his big sister, Gina, a sexy hairdresser and young single mother. Her brilliant, endearingly geeky 20-year-old son, Michael, plots to get out from under her thumb and share Joey's cool new apartment -- but Gina resists.

Joey lands a couple of auditions, but the jobs fall through. And he falls for a good-looking neighbor who turns out to be married. (Her wedding ring is prominently displayed on her left hand, but lovably dimwitted Joey often gets left and right confused.)

Thus is this spinoff on its way.

While the audition scenes are a bit routine (didn't we go through all this on "Cybill" and countless other comedies about wannabe actors?) home life seems full of potential -- especially with an unlimited supply of yet-to-be-met neighbors at Joey's apartment complex.

Drea de Matteo (search) ("The Sopranos") is instantly in gear as Gina, a take-charge sister and mom (but enough already with the breast-implant jokes!). Paulo Costanzo ("Road Trip") is appealing as a brainy naif -- a comic counterpoint to his uncle and mom.

After 10 years as Joey, series star Matt LeBlanc has the role down pat, and it's a continuing delight to watch him work.

Early in the episode, Joey tells Gina he shipped his belongings from New York with a company called Movers and Shakers, explaining, "They cost a little more, but man, that name cracked me up." Later, he grumbles that his stuff has apparently disappeared: "Stupid Movers and Shakers," he grumbles, then helplessly chuckles: "I can't be mad at those guys." And you believe he can't!

Joey also gets a flash of self-insight.

"I was happy in New York," he tells Gina, imploring her to be a little more adaptable. "I tried really hard to keep things from changing. But everyone else got married and had kids and moved on. They all changed. So, I'm giving change a shot. Hoping things stay the same -- it doesn't work."

This is a fine moment from both the actor and writers, and clear evidence how solidly the series is grounded. There's nothing revolutionary about "Joey," but there's plenty of new ground to cover with this old friend.