Weekly Wire
Weekly Alibi Best of the Box '98

By Devin D. O'Leary

JANUARY 11, 1999: 

"Crocodile Hunter" (Animal Planet) Nutty Aussie herpetologist Steve Irwin, his intrepid wife Terri and their hapless dog Suey circled the globe looking for dangerous reptiles to wrestle with, and we tuned in addictively. Steve's unbridled enthusiasm and unchecked bravura resulted in some of 1998's funniest "do as I say, not as I do" highlights. "This is the third most poisonous snake in the world," chirps Steve as he snatches up some puzzled reptile by the tail. "I'm 200 miles from the nearest hospital. If he bites me now, I'm a goner!" It's like watching "Wild Kingdom" on crack. Gimme more.

"The Daily Show" (Comedy Central) We're still waiting to see how replacement host Jon Stewart will do behind the desk of CC's sarcastic news show in 1999, but we have Craig Kilborn to thank for a sublime year of snide quips, rude comments and easy presidential potshots. If only Dan Rather were this funny. We'll be watching attentively as Craig takes over hosting duties on CBS' "The Late, Late Show."

"Friends" (NBC) Thursday night's Must See TV fell apart after "Seinfeld" lit out. "Frasier" seems to be in a holding pattern, "Veronica's Closet" has become unwatchable and "Jesse" just plain stinks. Thank the Cathode Ray for "Friends," though. It overcame the early hype machine, it weathered the criticism of big star salaries and it's grown funnier every year. An ensemble cast with Swiss watch timing and scripts that are willing to exploit every possible "friendship" angle have made for a killer season: Chandler and Monica trysting on the sly, sad sack Ross shacking-up at Joey and Chandler's pad, Phoebe giving birth to triplets. NBC ought to be thanking their lucky stars this show is so good.

"Maximum Bob" (ABC) It's a cryin' shame that 1998's best new series wasn't even a series. ABC gave Barry (Men In Black) Sonnenfeld's hilarious adaptation of the Elmore (Get Shorty) Leonard novel a six-week summer run and that was it. The show gave Beau Bridges his best role in years as the corrupt but lovable titular judge. The eccentric cast (including Bob's mermaid-turned-psychic channeler wife) recalled "Northern Exposure" in its heyday. Producers are trying to sell the show to cable now. Wake up, ABC, and make this a midseason replacement!

Merlin (NBC) I'd forgotten how good a TV mini-series could be until this fantasy-filled extravaganza popped up. Dazzling special effects, an epic storyline and some big name stars (Sam Neill, Helena Bonham Carter, Miranda Richardson, John Gielgud, Isabella Rossellini) made Merlin the premier TV event of 1998. This TV classic-to-be also proved that Martin Short is a fantastic actor. Who knew?

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