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Published by the Corpus Christi Caller-Times. CLICK FOR NEWSPAPER DELIVERY
Sunday, August 26, 2001

Fall TV preview

Primetime choices include a new slate of law, government, sci-fi and medical shows

Contributed photo - Design by John Bruce/Caller-Times
Patrick Warburton fights crime as 'The Tick' on FOX.
   While the fall TV season rolls out its new offerings in the next three months, brace yourself and expect more of the same.
   Of the new sitcoms and dramas, the networks have scheduled seven law-related shows, four programs about secret government agencies, a few more sci-fi series and a show set in a stress-filled hospital.
   Same shows, different year? Not quite.
   A few of the new shows cleverly separate themselves from the proven hits they resemble. For example, FOX's law-related offering "The Tick" centers on a squeaky-clean, thick-skulled superhero in a tick suit instead of your usual chain-smoking detective.
   "24" is an invigorating drama that breaks down conventional walls of storytelling although its plot revolves around the formulaic intrigue of a secret governmental agency. One of the more creative medical-related shows is actually a dynamic, laugh-out-loud sitcom called "Scrubs."
Contributed photo
Kiefer Sutherland, second from right, stars in the season's most inventive, real-time drama '24.'

   While the programming slate isn't completely dazzling, there are definitely a few diamonds in this rough.
   Best three comedies:
   1. "Scrubs" (8:30 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 25 on NBC) Humor and tragedy merge in the freshest of this season's sitcoms, "Scrubs." J.D. (Zach Braff) is a fresh-faced medical intern in a hospital full of unpredictability. Doctors say things doctors shouldn't say, and the patients are almost as entertaining. Best of all, the interns - J.D., his friend Chris Turk (Donald Faison) and romantic prospect Elliott (Sarah Chalke) - go out of their minds while learning by doing. The producers have insisted that many of the stories are true - a scary thought - but either way, its "Malcolm"-takes-on-"E.R." free-spirited direction is conducive to busting a gut.
Contributed photo
Greta Sesheta and Jennifer Garner of ABC's 'Alias.'

   2. "Undeclared" (7:30 p.m. Tuesday Sept. 18 on FOX) If you liked the short-lived NBC series "Freaks and Geeks," you'll love "Undeclared," which focuses on a group of college freshmen who share the same dorm floor at a California university. If you've ever been away to college, you've been there and done that, and "Undeclared" weaves collegiate humor together with iffy situations into a program you won't want to ditch.
   3. "The Tick" (7:30 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 1 on FOX) The Tick is a befuddled superhero, as many may know already from the cult-hit comic book and HBO animated series. He makes his live-action debut here (with Patrick Warburton in the blue suit), and the crime fighter is as lovable as ever. The unfaltering comedic writing throughout the first three episodes shows impressive consistency. His friends - Arthur, Bat Manuel and Captain Liberty - come along for the ride
   Best three dramas:
   1. "24" (9 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 30 on FOX) Ambitious, stylistic and it tells a mean story - "24" will change the way you look at television. Episode one starts at midnight on the day of the California presidential primary. We're introduced to Jack (Kiefer Sutherland), a father, husband and a government worker in a counter terrorist unit. He learns within five minutes that his 15-year-old daughter is missing and that an assassination attempt will be made that day on presidential hopeful David Palmer.
Contributed photo
Ellen DeGeneres returns to TV this fall in 'The Ellen Show.'
The hour-long episodes follow the plot in real time. The camera work and presentation help quicken the pace; there are often multiple shots of different locations shown simultaneously on the screen.
   2. "Alias" (8 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 30 on ABC) From the creator of "Felicity" comes this contemporary, pop-culturally influenced series. Jennifer Garner is Sydney Bristow, a vivacious, athletic grad student with a not-so-typical after-school job: She's an agent for SD-6, a top-secret division of the CIA. "Alias" is a shoot-'em-up action-fest of spy games and trickery.
   3. "Pasadena" (8 p.m. Friday, Sept. 21 on FOX) The Greeley family of Pasadena, Calif., is influential politically and financially, and it's not always pretty or legal. Lily (Alison Lohman) is one of the youngest members of the family, and she's confused when she's forcefully introduced to some of her family's wrongdoings by a fellow classmate. If this program finds the right mixture of nighttime soap and whodunit, you might find yourself heading to "Pasadena."
Contributed photo
Sarah Chalke, Zach Braff and Donald Faison star in the comedy 'Scrubs.'

   Worst three comedies:
   1. "Bob Patterson" (8 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 25 on ABC) "Bob Patterson" isn't the worst comedy because it's horribly awful, but because it fails to highlight the talent of Jason Alexander who plays motivational speaker Bob Patterson, a man who inspired millions but can't inspire himself. Even Alexander can't produce laughs from the empty, poorly written script.
   2. "Men, Women and Dogs" (7:30 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 7 on The WB) Here's a relationship comedy about four guys whose lives are centered on their girlfriends, their jobs and their dogs. Bill Bellamy stars as Jeremiah, a chef who has a way with the ladies. You know a show is in trouble when the canines get more publicity ink than their costars. Bellamy is the only laugh-worthy actor, and with this hokey material, the former MTV bad boy seems out of his element.
Contributed photo
Emeril Lagasse, Sherri Shepherd, Lisa Ann Walter star in NBC's 'Emeril.'

   3. "Emeril" (7 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 18 on NBC) Those cooking-show-worthy one-liners ("Bam!" and "Let's take it up a notch!") can't carry Emeril's excited-chef personality over the sitcom threshold successfully. The show is all about how everybody loves Emeril, a family man who has his own cooking show on TV. The pilot episode's only funny moment happens between Emeril's two female friends (played by Lisa Ann Walter and Sherri Shephard). Even worse: The producers announced at a recent press conference that they will limit the actresses' screen time to devote more time to Emeril and his family life. Seconds anyone? I didn't think so.
   Worst three dramas:
   1. "Wolf Lake" (9 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 12 on CBS) People are morphing into wolves in the small Pacific Northwest town of Wolf Lake, and outsiders are starting to get suspicious. Flour Bluff High School grad Lou Diamond Phillips stars as John Kanin, a Seattle cop in town searching for his missing fiancée.
Contributed photo
Richard Dreyfuss comes to TV in 'The Education of Max Bickford.'
"Wolf Lake" was so problematic from the start that the entire concept was scrapped and rebuilt (the previous pilot had Phillips as a government worker in town studying the wolves). History has proven that shows with rocky beginnings are unsuccessful, and if "Wolf Lake" take two is as bad as take one, history will likely prevail.
   2. "Thieves" (8 p.m. Friday, Sept. 21 on ABC) John Stamos and Melissa George play high-class thieves, Johnny and Rita. When they get caught, they're forced to put their sticky fingers to work for the U.S. government. The writing tries to play off the tension between Johnny and Rita as they try to resist their budding romance, but the cheap sex jokes should have been gone in 60 seconds.
   3. "Crossing Jordan"
Contributed photo
Kyla Pratt, Flex Alexander in 'One on One' on UPN.
(9 p.m. Monday, Sept. 17 on NBC) NBC witnessed the surprise success of CBS's "C.S.I.: Crime Scene Investigators," and immediately rushed out this similar program. Jordan (Jill Hennessy) is a fearless Boston medical examiner with a checkered career. She often gets herself in trouble by acting like a detective and investigating the crimes. Hennessy shines, but not enough to save "Jordan."
   The rest of the new network TV programs include the following series (For a look at the new unscripted TV offerings, visit our reality-TV roundup by Ricardo Baca at www.caller.com/baca):
   "According to Jim" (7:30 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 26 on ABC) Jim Belushi plays a husband who thinks the key to marriage is nodding at everything his wife says. The show's blatant milking of gender stereotypes doesn't pass as comedy.
Contributed photo
FOX's 'Undeclared' focuses on a group of college freshmen in California.

   "Citizen Baines" (8 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 22 on CBS) Three-term senator Elliott Baines (James Cromwell) just lost his bid for re-election and has returned to his Seattle home. For the first time in years, he learns to live a normal life with plenty of time for his three daughters. Cromwell brings big-screen presence, but the daughters provide the soul in "Baines."
   "Danny" (7:30 p.m. Friday, Sept. 21 on CBS) Daniel Stern (the "Home Alone" burglar) stars as a recently divorced, ultra-neurotic dad relearning how to live without a spouse. His ex-wife is still in the picture, as are a few flirtatious co-workers. If the cast of family members can find their glue, "Danny" could rise to "Roseanne"-status.
   "Enterprise" (7 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 26 on UPN) Captain Jonathan Archer (Scott Bakula) is the first to take a deep-space exploration ship from Earth. The time period is pre-Kirk, and it's interesting watching the producers try to make a starship bridge look edgy and modern, but dated as well, since this is 100 years before Kirk, Spock and Bones sailed the high seas.
Primetime schedule, 2001-2002
Click here to view the schedule

   "Inside Schwartz" (7:30 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 20 on NBC) Adam Schwartz (Breckin Meyer) is a sports-obsessed twentysomething whose inner thoughts are revealed through fantasy conversations with famous athletes, referees and sportscasters. The result is not charming or creative.
   "Law & Order: Criminal Intent" (8 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 30 on NBC) The "Law & Order" brand is expanded with this, another weekly legal series from producer Dick Wolf. "Criminal Intent" has the bonus of screen star Vincent D'Onofrio at the helm as detective Robert Goren. In an unusual approach, "Criminal Intent" starts each episode with the crime from the criminal's perspective.
   "Maybe it's Me" (7:30 p.m. Friday, Sept. 14 on The WB) This sitcom features 15-year-old Molly (Reagan Dale Neis), who doesn't fit in with her idiosyncratic family. She lives with her parents (played by the underutilized Julia Sweeney and Fred Willard), her two twin sisters, her two brothers, her mom's mom and her dad's dad. Eight is more than enough in this case.
   "Off Centre" (8:30 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 7 on The WB) Here's another example of poor quality from The WB this season. Two wannabe-Oscar-and-Felix roommates live in a trendy New York apartment. This attempt at comedy, created by the Weitz brothers of "American Pie" fame, hasn't a chance of enjoying nearly the success of "Pie." It will most likely be off the air before you can say, "Stifler's mom."
   "One on One" (7:30 p.m. Monday, Sept. 3 on UPN) Mark (Flex Alexander) is a sportswriter with a 15-year-old daughter who outsmarts him on occasion. It's on Monday night with UPN's other black-slated sitcoms, and the pilot episode included some entertaining moments.
   "Philly" (8 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 18 on ABC) This drama stars former "NYPD Blue" actress Kim Delaney as Kathleen Maguire, a tough defense attorney in the weathered courtrooms of Philadelphia's city hall. "Philly" has some of the same sensibilities as "NYPD Blue" and other law-related shows. But there's not enough there to distinguish itself from "The Practice" or countless others.
   "Raising Dad" (8:30 p.m. Friday, Sept. 14 on The WB) If you needed another reason to write a nasty letter to The WB's head of comedy programming: Bob Saget is back in series television. "Raising Dad" features Matt (Saget), a recent widower taking care of his two daughters. Same Saget dad (as in "Full House"). Same Saget smirk (as in "America's Funniest Home Videos"). Same Saget humor (unfortunately for us, we know it well).
   "Reba" (8 p.m. Friday, Sept. 14 on The WB) Reba McEntire plays a Texas soccer mom in the midst of turmoil. Her husband is leaving her, her 17-year-old daughter is pregnant, and her other two children are in state of constant rebellion. The humor is Southern, but not as cutting as FOX's "King of the Hill."
   "Smallville" (8 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 16 on The WB) Before the skin-tight suit, Clark Kent was a normal boy, according to this series. There was a meteor shower 12 years ago in Smallville, Kan., but Clark's parents have kept his identity a secret to everyone, including Clark, whose superpowers emerge throughout his adolescence. "Smallville" carries a tough load: It's The WB's only chance at good television among its new series.
   "The Agency" (9 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 20 on CBS) Based on the Central Intelligence Agency and those who make it tick, "The Agency" takes on individual cases and highlights the daily moral and ethical dilemmas faced by the agents. It's the first show ever filmed inside CIA headquarters. Does this mean anything beyond authentic marble lobby floors? Not really.
   "The Bernie Mac Show" (8:30 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 7 on FOX) Bernie and his wife never wanted kids, but when his drug-addicted sister checks into rehab, they decide to take in her three children. His house rules are tough - as is his love. Fans of Mac's stand-up comedy (he starred in Spike Lee's "The Original Kings of Comedy") will enjoy his fatherhood idioms.
   "The Education of Max Bickford" (7 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 23 on CBS) Richard Dreyfuss is a college history professor whose life is at a crossroads. Dreyfuss' character has troubling relationships with the women in his life, including his protégé, his friend (who recently underwent a sex change) and his 18-year-old daughter.
   "The Ellen Show" (8:30 p.m. Monday, Sept. 17 on CBS) Ellen DeGeneres' character trades the stress of a big-city dot-com job for the slower pace of her tamer, rural hometown. Ellen is out and proud, and her neighbors and friends have a hard time coping with her sexuality. The comedy isn't as sharp as Ellen's uncensored wit, but it benefits from Cloris Leachman as Dot, Ellen's mom.
   "The Guardian" (7 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 18 on CBS) Nick Fallin (Simon Baker) is a big-shot lawyer whose busy schedule is saddled when he's busted with drugs and forced to perform community service in addition to his normal law duties. Baker makes for a lifeless leading man, and his lack of energy and focus weighs down the drama.
   "UC: Undercover" (9 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 30 on NBC) "UC" focuses on an elite undercover crime-fighting unit that confronts the country's deadliest lawbreakers. Donavan (Oded Fehr) heads up the group, which also includes Jake (John Seda). Fehr was added after the pilot was shot. His presence will add a true hero-type, something it lacked previously.
  
  


Pop culture and media critic Ricardo Baca can be reached at 886-3688 or by e-mail at bacar@caller.com


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