Friday, June 18, 2004, at 10:47PM

By Eric Richardson

I first mentioned Coupling here about a year ago, when the first clips from the NBC version started to show up. I first saw the show well before that, though, and in the days before New Years 2003 VHS copies of a BBC America marathon through seasons one and two eased me through the removal of my wisdom teeth.

Now, it's season four. I'm not going to talk plot, 'cause I really want everyone to do whatever they must to obtain the show and watch it. But the plot's really not important to why I'm writing.

Tonight I finished season four. At the start, I had my doubts. Seasons one through three were without question the funniest sitcom I've watched. But season four started off on the wrong foot, coming back without Jeff. Not anyone's fault, but a bad mark just the same. Oliver was the new guy. They played him for the cheap laugh. He comes in to some physical comedy. Not really that funny.

But hold on... Stephan Moffet has a plan. He knows where he's going with this, even if you don't. You see, this is British television, not American. In America a season would have 22 episodes written by 8 different writers. A season on the BBC may only have six episodes, but each one of them is written by the same mind. And so the characters can evolve. The tone can change. All of a sudden you realize that even though this is still the funniest thing you're apt to see on tv, now it's also a show with a heart.

We'll see if Coupling returns for a season five. Every time it gets harder and harder to bring the original cast back together. I hope they find a way to make it happen, even if it would most likely be a couple years down the line. I don't get hooked on tv shows very often, but this one's got me.