THIS WEEK WE LOOK AT MORE NEW shows, including two uncannily similar dramas, ER
and Chicago Hope
, both set in Chicago hospitals. They air on different networks on the same night at the same time, setting off the fiercest medical battle since the President sent his health care reform package up the Hill.
Fox (Fridays, 8 p.m. ET)
Spun off from a TV movie, this series features Carl Lumbly as a paraplegic scientist who, along with his research partner (Roger Rees), develops a suit that grants him not only mobility but incredible—if temporary—physical powers, enabling him to battle arch-criminals. (And this is the most realistic show on the Fox schedule.)
As was true of another superhero show of a few seasons ago, The Flash
, Mantis's costume is cool, but the plots and action scenes are lukewarm at best. M.A.N.T.I.S.
should be praying for better scripts.
CBS (Fridays, 9 p.m. ET)
Her name is Rose Phillips, but at work everyone calls her Phil. She's the only female detective on an urban police force. Entrenched sexism isn't all Phil (Karen Sillas) has to deal with. The show is structured as a suspense serial. One episode sets up a mystery that gets solved the following week. In the pilot, her partner (guest star Peter Onorati) has vanished.
Seymour Cassel, Philip Casnoff, Brian McNamara, Paul McCrane, Richard Foronjy and Ray Baker costar. But Sillas is the cynosure of the series. She's piquant as a tough woman holding her own in a tough fraternity. Under Suspicion is sort of a one-note show, but that note, while thin, is piercing.
PBS (Sun., Sept. 18, 8 p.m. ET)
There is great joy in Mudville this night (and for eight more evenings to come). Ken Burns has hit a grand slam with this magnificent history of our nation's pastime.
The filmmaker (see story, page 205) uses many of the same techniques that made his Civil War a landmark television event: slow pans across period photographs, voices (among them, those of Adam Arkin, Garrison Keillor and Philip Bosco) reading from journals, poems and newspaper accounts as well as anecdotes told by such on-cam-era enthusiasts as Roger Angell, Mario Cuomo, Billy Crystal and Bob Costas. But the Muse of this series, as Shelby Foote was for The Civil War
, is Daniel Okrent, the current managing editor of LIFE
, who shares a remarkable cache of baseball lore.
The series, organized chronologically into nine "innings," examines the game from the 1840s to the present (accelerating in the 1920s when Babe Ruth and the movie camera ushered in the modern age). Along the way, the series celebrates a parade of baseball immortals, from Christy Mathewson to Pete Rose. Burns is punctilious about honoring great blacks from the segregated Negro leagues. In fact, no player in these annals receives as much sustained attention as Jackie Robinson, who broke the Major League race barrier in 1947.
Baseball is a monumental achievement, perhaps too monumental for TV For fans, it is a sumptuous feast. But its 18½-hour length will daunt those without an acute interest in the game. That is not to gainsay the film's surpassing quality. Baseball is truly in a league of its own.
ABC (Sun., Sept. 18, 9 p.m. ET)
In 1962 a divorcée (Marg Helgenberger), a hardworking, devoted mother of three, is briefly jailed on trumped-up charges. When she returns, her kids are gone. She begins to suspect her family has been targeted by a highly connected ring that appropriates poor kids for private adoption. So begins an unwavering maternal crusade to locate her family that goes on for decades (it only seems like centuries).
This plodding, lachrymal melodrama, based on an actual event, contains decent period details and better acting than this utterly conventional material warrants. Corbin Bernsen and Christopher Noth costar.
CBS (Sun., Sept. 18, 10 p.m. ET)
This drama series from writer-producer David E. Kelley (Picket Fences) focuses on the surgical staff at Chicago's Hope
Hospital. The principal characters are the tempestuous but brilliant Dr. Geiger (Mandy Patinkin), who likes to listen to classic soul music and sing along in a reedy falsetto while in the O.R., and his best friend, the more levelheaded but repressed Dr. Shutt (Northern Exposure's Adam Arkin). The cast also includes Hector Elizondo, Roxanne Hart, Peter MacNicol and TV veteran E.G. Marshall.
Though the show leans a little heavily on ethical issues and its harried doctors are far too devoted to the personal welfare of their patients, Patinkin and Arkin are dynamic. Intelligent, fleet, emotionally complex and lightly dusted with Kelley's celebrated sense of the absurd, this is the best hospital show since St. Elsewhere. After this preview the series moves to its regular slot: Thursdays at 10 p.m.
NBC(Mon., Sept. 19, 9 p.m. ET)
This hospital drama series created by author and onetime physician Michael Crichton is the most visceral of the new medical shows, recreating the bedlam of an urban emergency room. Gunshot wounds, severed limbs, car accidents, drug overdoses, battered infants—County General Memorial gets them all. Anthony Edwards, George Clooney
, Sherry Stringfield and Noah Wyle play the doctors working killer hours under enormous stress.
The emergency sequences are pure adrenaline rush, but the drama, romance and humor ladled into the lull periods are pretty hackneyed. After this preview, the show moves to Thursdays at 10 p.m., exactly the same time as Chicago Hope
. So if you don't like one show, get a second opinion.
>TUBE: Two new medical drama series, each set in a Chicago hospital, premiere; Ken Burns's documentary Baseball lives up to its hype
SCREEN: In Quiz Show, Ralph Fiennes is an intelligent man making unwise moves; there are kicks to be had in Jean-Claude Van Damme's Time cop; Dr. Sean Connery can't save A Good Man in Africa
SONG: Ray Charles relives his Atlantic Years; The Soup Dragons ladle out a Stones-style sound; Anita Baker tries to get back into the Rhythm of Love
PAGES: Ruthie Bolton writes a surprising best-seller, Gal; James Grippando gives the legal thriller a new twist in The Pardon