PBS (Sun., Oct. 22, 9 p.m. ET)

A

Helen Mirren returns for her fourth case as newly promoted Detective Superintendent Jane Tennison. When a single mother is bludgeoned and her infant abducted, Tennison and the London detective squad she oversees spring into overdrive. For Tennison, the case has special poignancy because she has just had an abortion. And now, as the hunt for the missing toddler intensifies, a ravenous mob of Fleet Street reporters is demanding answers. As always, Mirren gives an engrossing, utterly convincing performance as Tennison. Also excellent is Stuart Wilson as a supercilious consulting psychiatrist who specializes in pedophiles.

While previous Prime Suspects have run as miniseries under the Mystery! umbrella, this one and two other new Tennison cases (Feb. 11 and April 28) will air as self-contained movies on Masterpiece Theatre this season. The condensed format only enhances this crackling procedural's intense atmosphere.

CBS (Mondays, 8:30 p.m. ET)

B+

Nancy McKeon, teen tomboy Jo on NBC's Facts of Life from 1980 to 1988, returns to prime time as Annie O'Donnell, an old-fashioned single woman who's waiting for Mr. Right while everyone she knows is getting it on with anything that breathes. Her best friend and neighbor (Mariska Hargitay) is a sort of hyper-hormonal Holly Golightly. "A good date," she counsels McKeon, "is [getting home at] 3 a.m., tequila stains on your blouse, and your bra in your purse." The interplay between McKeon's prissiness and her friends' horniness is often artificial and forced. But when the show can get its mind off sex, the result is a spunky and snappy comedy.

CBS (Thursdays, 9 p.m. ET)

B-

The concept for this show—a drama about the deadline-driven staff of a failing New York City tabloid—was promising, but the reality is surprisingly pedestrian.

Mary Tyler Moore stars as the New York Reporter's results-oriented editor. Gregory Harrison is the voice-of-the-people columnist who has unlimited sources at all levels of society. The paper's other columnist is played by Guiding Light veteran Melina Kankaredes, who played a reporter last season on NYPD Blue. The two are bitter rivals, although I don't see why they have to fight for stories considering how easily each of them stumbles upon the Big Scoops. Kankaredes, after aiding a young girl who has fallen while ice-skating in Central Park, learns that her dad, a famous Broadway producer, is a deadbeat—and writes a juicy exposé about him. Madeline Kahn, as a flamboyant gossip, provides comic relief.

But the characters are humdrum and the plots are predictable. New York News won't make anyone's front page.

NBC (Thursdays, 9:30 p.m. ET)

B+

This sitcom revolves around the personal life of a cheerful but insecure comic-strip artist (Lea Thompson). She's a Midwesterner seeking happiness and a meaningful relationship in Manhattan. The laughs—and there are many—are provided by Malcolm Gets as Thompson's gloomy, witheringly sarcastic colorist, a man for whom an exciting night out is attending "a festival of failed Swiss documentaries." Also amusing is Amy Pietz as Thompson's earthy, party-animal neighbor. With her Queens accent and pixie-ish looks, Pietz is a cross between Fran Drescher and Pat Benatar.

Though the show lacks the inspired cohesiveness of classic sitcoms like Cheers or Seinfeld, it is bright, brisk and well-played.

NBC (Saturdays, 9:30 p.m. ET)

F

Pamela Reed (Kindergarten Cop) plays Sydney Solomon, a Chicago family-court judge. "I got crack mothers. I got kids with Uzis," she says dourly of her caseload. The laugh track erupts as if this pronouncement were the height of hilarity.

Charles Rocket plays a fellow jurist who invites Reed out to lunch to celebrate sentencing his first serial killer. Reed balks. "Free curly fries if you wear your robe," he quips. She accepts.

On the domestic front, Reed is a harried single mother of four. When her youngest boy tries to hide a football behind his back, Reed warns, "That big red thing dangling behind you better be your prostate." Yes, she says this to her 11-year-old son. Cue the laugh track again. The family's dinner-table gags run the gamut from mammaries to pink eye.

How appetizing. In our judgment, The Home Court deserves to get benched.

>BOYS WILL BE GIRLS

EVERY SO OFTEN AN AFTERNOON SOAP will festoon one of its studly leading men with a dress, wig and makeup. Ordinarily it's a flitting transformation played for laughs, as when Mac Scorpio (John J. York) of ABC's General Hospital disguised himself as matronly Eve Bromley last month to expose a phony psychic. So convincing was York that a male castmate backstage needed several minutes to see through the rouge. As York recalls, "He said, 'God! I thought you were Paula Abdul.' "

Lately, CBS's Guiding Light has been featuring a more sinister cross-dresser. The dastardly and presumed-dead Brent has disguised himself as kindly Marian to exact revenge on Lucy (Sonya Satra). To prep, actor Frank Beaty enrolled in Miss Vera's Finishing School for Boys Who Want to Be Girls, an actual school for transvestites in New York City. Beaty also requires pads, a corset and (to hide his Adam's apple) a rubber neckpiece. Made up as Marian, Beaty is at ease—except in his scenes with Satra. "She is literally half my size," he sighs. "But what can you do? I'm just a big woman." Amen, brother.

>TUBE: Caroline in the City's Lea Thompson takes Manhattan eccentrics in stride; Helen Mirren's latest Prime Suspect is a cradle robber; Home Court's disadvantage: foul humor

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