This week we turn our attention to
704 Hauser, a mutant '90s version of All in the Family
(an African-American family lives in Archie Bunker's old house). Last week, quite by coincidence, I ended up watching a rerun of that '70s sitcom. In this episode, a chagrined Archie must apply for unemployment. But what's this? Playing the civil service clerk who deals with Archie's assumptions about how the system works was F. Murray Abraham, who a decade later would win an Oscar for his role in Amadeus
. I love when that happens, when a not-yet-famous face turns up on an old show—when for instance you spot Burt Reynolds piloting a one-man sub on Flipper
or Sharon Stone—as twins, yet!—trying to seduce Tom Selleck on Magnum, P.I. I think that's why-God created reruns: for the frisson of occasionally seeing a wild surprise pop up amid the totally familiar.
VH-l (Sat., May 7, 4 p.m. ET)
This special marks the reunion of the expansive '60s soft-rock group Traffic, who this week released their first album since 1974. At least it's a partial reunion, with charter members Steve Winwood and Jim Capaldi (who has a face that makes Tommy Lee Jones's look cherubic) joined by hired studio help.
Though the new material sounds decidedly thin when juxtaposed with the group's classics like "Dear Mr. Fantasy," this is still an engaging piece of pop nostalgia. It's nice to see that Traffic still jams.
ABC (Sun., May 8, 9 p.m. ET)
A plague is upon the Earth, an unimaginably contagious and deadly flulike strain unleashed in a government germ-warfare experiment. With the population decimated, the forces of good and evil vie for the straggling survivors.
About the only person for whom this epidemic is good news is a nerd from Maine (Corin Nemec). The girl he has always had a crush on (Molly Ringwald) wouldn't go out with him if he was the last guy on Earth. Suddenly he's close to qualifying. Also spared from the scourge are a feckless pop singer (Adam Storke), a convict (Miguel Ferrer), a pyromaniac (Matt Frewer), a canny country boy (Gary Sinise), a noble deaf mute (Rob Lowe) and various others (among them Bill Fagerbakke, Ossie Davis, Ray Walston and Peter Van Norden). Showing up in cameos are Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Kathy Bates and Stephen King, who adapted his own apocalyptic novel for television. Ed Harris and Max Wright are eliminated early on.
The righteous folk, guided by a devout 106-year-old woman (Ruby Dee), gather in Boulder, Colo. The rowdies, under the sinister thumb of the devil-made-flesh (Jamey Sheridan), flock to (where else?) Las Vegas. Director Mick Garris does a good job of telling this big, challenging story in a crisp, comprehensible fashion, although he's eventually snowed under by the murky, quasimystical New Testament mumbo jumbo of King's parable. (For a far better, manageably scaled treatment of the theme, read the 1992 Tim Powers novel, Last Call
The miniseries, which continues Monday, Wednesday and Thursday, is entertaining. But is it worth eight hours of your attention? Not unless you're laid up with a bad flu bug you just can't seem to shake.
CBS (Mondays, 8:30 p.m. ET)
Norman Lear, the creator of All in the Family
, puts a twist on his old hit. The selling is the same: the Bunkers' modest tract house in Queens, N.Y. But the outspoken head of the household is now Ernest Cumberbatch (John Amos), a grumpy African-American with a slogie wedged in his mouth. And he's not shouting at Meathead, calling him a "Pinko." He's having heated polemical arguments with his ultraconservalive son (T.E. Russell), in the course of which Pops calls him "an Oreo" and "Uncle Clarence Thomas Jr."
Yes, it's role reversal time. Ironic, huh? Slavishly so. But the politics grow more fuzzy with each episode (we're repeatedly told Amos is a liberal, but there's no evidence that this is the case). The result is a show that's talky, stale and rarely funny. You want provocative political humor? Watch Dennis Miller's live rantings on his new HBO show, Fridays at midnight.
CBS (Tues., May 10, 9 p.m. ET)
In this docudrama, Lorraine Bracco plays Diane Giacalone, an assistant U.S. attorney who devoted many years to bringing down New York City Mob boss John Gotti (Tony Denison). But the 1987 trial in which she prosecuted Gotti and six other defendants ended in acquittal, a verdict later clouded by charges of jury tampering.
The film labors from the opening scenes to establish that the fates of Giacalone and Gotti are intertwined, that they are two sides of a coin from the same Italian-American neighborhood.
This movie runs on alternating current. Every time the camera is on the swaggering Denison the mood is electric. He helps paint a dark portrait of New York City Mob life, where brutal men plot violence and extract tribute from the back rooms of seedy social clubs. Switch over to Bracco, with her lazy, disinterested manner, and the excitement evaporates. Casting Mercedes Ruehl in her role would have improved this film immeasurably.
The problem with Getting Gotti
is that it keeps losing Gotti.
A DOUBLE-BARRELED DOSE OF BROOKS
COUNTRY'S SAVVIEST STAR ROLLS out another flashy concert special, This Is Garth Brooks, Too
!, for NBC on Friday (May 6, 8 p.m. ET). In his shows, the Oklahoma Everyman combines the ingratiating sentimental streak of country performers with the flamboyant showmanship of a rocker. Let's see Def Leppard match the pyrotechnics (literally) of Brooks's "Standing Outside the Fire." Believe me, it isn't easy to be this slick while appearing so sincere. Party on. Garth.