Reviewing the highlights-and lowlights-of the fall TV season.
By Tom Danehy
OCTOBER 19, 1998: OVER THE PAST few weeks I have watched every new show on TV so you wouldn't have to. You're welcome. This semi-mental exercise also served to answer the question posed by my wife as to what a family of four would ever possibly do with three VCRs.
The networks (there are six of them now, if you still count CBS) are throwing 36 new shows at us, hoping that two or three might stick. Unfortunately, most of the sticking is of the "I-stepped-in-something-and-it-stuck-to-my-shoe" variety.
I didn't actually get to see all 36. Some haven't come on yet. There's that eagerly-awaited new series with Bo Derek (doing an update of the Barbara Stanwyck role on The Big Valley) as the widowed matriarch of a Hawaii ranching family. That "eagerly-awaited" thing is irony, a trick I picked up by watching Soupy Sales in my formative years.
I did watch all of the new shows which came on (and were shown in Tucson). That's not as easy as it sounds, even with multiple VCRs and a cable TV system which costs more than the flood-plain land on which our tiny house sits ever so uneasily.
In this day of instant ratings gratification for the suits who run TV, most of the new shows will be gone before the November sweeps. A lot of them are painfully generic. Some aren't. Which doesn't automatically make them worth watching; just worth mentioning. They include:
The Secret Diary of Desmond Pfeiffer
THE SETUP: Aristocratic British black butler works in the Lincoln White House. But Lincoln is portrayed as an oafish closet homosexual and Mary Todd Lincoln as a potty-mouthed loonie bird.
THE DEAL: Not as good as I had hoped, not as bad as I had feared. This thing caused such a stink among self-proclaimed black activists that UPN pulled the pilot and started the season with the second episode.
(Guys, when are we all going to learn that we don't destroy stereotypes with censorship? Stereotypes will fall of their own dead weight when exposed for the fallacies that they are. Besides, the black character is the only intelligent, reasonable one in the whole ensemble. Furthermore, claiming that the show makes light of slavery is a cheap shot and is so clearly false, it undermines whatever little credibility you may have walked in with.)
A lot of the inside criticism has taken the form of "What were they smoking when they came up with this idea?" I'm sorry, but with countless single moms, odd-couple roommates, and the usual assortment of cops, doctors and lawyers on TV, this idea seems a hoot of fresh air.
THE VERDICT: Alas, they don't pull it off. It's not funny, including the part about Lincoln engaging in "telegraph sex."
THE SETUP: Ex-CIA guy gets tabbed to pilot an alien-inspired, Area 51-based time machine. He can only go back one week, and does so only to right big wrongs.
THE VERDICT: Some people are suckas for luv. I'm a sucka for a good time-travel story. I'll let you know when I come across one.
THE SETUP: Alyssa Milano and Shannen Doherty star as witches.
THE DEAL: Some jokes are even too easy for me. And it doesn't help that the show is on the WB, whose symmetrical logo makes the letters look interchangeable.
THE VERDICT: Not horrible, but too somber. Nice touch that each witch gets a different power. Could go either way, just like Shan--naw, still too easy.
Two of a Kind
THE SETUP: Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen, those two Full House walking advertisements for retroactive birth control, are now 12-year-old scamps on the verge of teenagehood, but nowhere in the vicinity of talent or entertainment.
THE DEAL: I saw on the news that a local boy has a recurring part on the three episodes of this sitcom which will air before it's canceled. Hey, Kid, congrats on getting the part, but you should stay in school, even if it is in District 1.
THE SETUP: College-bound girl blows off Stanford and follows hunky guy to New York City. Guy dumps her, but she inexplicably decides to stay in New York, anyway.
THE DEAL: What is this, science fiction? Nobody stays in New York City voluntarily. They're all prisoners. I saw it in a movie with Isaac Hayes driving a Cadillac with chandeliers on the front.
For some reason, Felicity is the runaway critical favorite this season, being hailed as "real" and "honest." I don't get it. Look, I grew up in a ghetto. I saw a friend of mine gunned down in a drive-by when I was seven. I even caught a couple bullets myself in later years. But I have never, not one day, not even for 10 minutes, been as somber as these young people are all the time!
Life is good. And if you're young, intelligent and attractive, it should be so good, it makes you wanna pee!
THE VERDICT: Felicity is just My So-Called Life with an attractive lead actress. Believe it or not, a lot of young people successfully negotiate the blind curve of adolescence and grow to adulthood without ever feeling their life has become a soap opera. This has some snappy writing, but needs to lighten up a whooooole bunch, especially since it follows the riot that is Buffy, The Vampire Slayer.
The Brian Benben Show
THE SETUP: L.A. TV news anchor gets canned in favor of younger, better-looking scheming snake, then reluctantly returns to the station to do feature stories for one-fifth his former salary.
THE DEAL: In pilot episode, Brian interviews 102-year-old woman, a former vaudevillian. When he tries to perk her up for the camera by saying that Flo Ziegfeld is in the audience, she smiles, then rips open her blouse. Funny stuff, but having the evil successor win every battle gets very frustrating to watch.
THE VERDICT: Close call. Up against Will & Grace, another funny newcomer. Both shows face stiff competition from the wildly overrated Ally McBeal and Monday Night Football. Probably only one of the sitcoms will survive.
Living In Captivity and The Hughleys
THE SETUP: Two identical shows about black families moving to white suburbia and then practicing reverse discrimination.
THE VERDICT: Thank God Nick At Nite is showing All In The Family reruns.
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