Democrats really do have more fun. For four days last week they treated us to a fancy dance of pomp and showbiz, celebrating President Clintons Inauguration. The mix of lofty rhetoric, patriotic symbolism and sheer star-power sent television into a rapt tizzy that played out like a hybrid of the Bicentennial and the Grammys. The big entertainment events on HBO and CBS were, for the most part, hokey, overorchestrated jumbles. (Lauren Bacall paired with R.E.M.'s Michael Stipe?!) The most effective special was designed for citizens who won't be voting for quite some time: The Disney Channel's Inaugural Celebration for Children on Tuesday, during which Clinton talked touchingly with Mr. Rogers about how, as a child, he dealt with the feelings of anger and loneliness we all have. Certainly there were moments, particularly the swearing-in ceremony and the triumphant inarch up Pennsylvania Avenue, which evoked a sense of pride and participation, of continuity and possibility. As always, TV's cluttered environment made for some juxtapositions. As fireworks went off over our nation's capital on Sunday evening, you could flick the remote and see the night skies over Baghdad lit up by antiaircraft tracer rounds. There were other odd moments, such as Bob Dylan totally baffling the sign language translators who were present at all events as he mumbled through (as near as I could tell) "Chimes of Freedom" on Sunday. As for First Brother Roger Clinton lowing along with En Vogue at the MTV Ball, well, maybe it's not too soon to start thinking about a presidential pardon.

Syndicated (Check local listings)


You must remember this: A kick is still a kick. In this updated sequel, David Carradine once again plays a flashback-bedeviled Amerasian named Kwai Chang Caine; only now he's the grandson of the martial arts master he portrayed in ABC's Old West series from the '70s. Like his—ancestor, Kung Fu the Younger has a dragon tattoo on his forearm, signifying training as a Shaolin priest. That means he's given to spouting pseudo-Confucian aphorisms such as, "When you understand your motives and the motives of your enemies, you cannot help but win." The profundity is apparently infectious. Even villains scream at their henchmen such dialogue as, "The source of all life is a profound mystery."

The original show was pure genius. Each episode, the gentle pacifist would he goaded unmercifully until, in glorious slo-mo, he would disassemble a pack of rude yahoos. You'd sit through all the mystical guff waiting for Carradine to practice the exact opposite of what he preached.

This time, Carradine's lonely wanderer pads around modern-city streets and needs a lot less provocation to unleash his skills. This is also the story of Carradine's estranged son (Chris Potter), a remarkably trigger-happy cop. (Though he seems to mellow out after the megaviolent pilot episode—to the detriment of the show.) Robert Lansing costars.

The premise doesn't work all that well in a contemporary setting. That's not Carradine's fault. As Caine, he's still able. At 56, he may not be able to put his foot upside anyone's head, but he's murder on the thorax. It's the plotting that's problematic. But if you're a fan of weakly written action fare, you just hit pay dirt, Grasshopper.

NBC (Sun., Jan. 31)


Getting the big launch right after the Super Bowl, this limited-run series is the best ensemble cop drama since Hill Street Blues. Based on reporter David Simon's nonfiction book, the show centers on a squad of Baltimore homicide detectives played by Ned Beatty, Jon Polito, Melissa Leo, Richard Belzer, Andre Braugher, Daniel Baldwin, Clark Johnson, Yaphet Kotto and Kyle Secor.

The pilot is extraordinary. Directed by the series' coexecutive producer, Barry Levinson (Rain Man), it's both joltingly realistic and stylish, using askew hand-held camera work and abrupt, jumpy editing.

The cast is wonderful, particularly comic Belzer, who keeps just enough of his acid-dipped stand-up persona. Questioning a suspect, he says, "OK, now I get it. You're saving your really good lies for some smarter cop, is that it?...I'm just Montel Williams. You want to talk to Larry King.

Three days after this premiere, the show moves to its scheduled slot, Wednesdays at 9, for seven weeks, bumping Seinfeld to Thursdays at 9:30 and Mad About You to Saturdays at the same time.


TELEVISION HAS GONE INTO HOOPLA overdrive. Last week, the Inauguration; this week, the Super Bowl. The game is on NBC (Sun., Jan. 31, 6 p.m. ET) but specials abound. The one I recommend is the syndicated Road to the Super Bowl (check local listings), NFL Films' season recap that really makes you feel like you're on the field with the players. Of course there will be all those extravagant new ad campaigns unveiled during Super XXVII (commercial time goes for $1.7 million a minute). Garth Brooks sings the National Anthem; Michael Jackson performs at halftime. All that's missing is Madonna as the NFL's first topless referee. Oh, and somewhere amidst all the pandemonium in Pasadena, the Cowboys will be thumping on the Bills.


NO SOONER HAD THE LATE-NIGHT DECISIONS been made than the self-referential gibes began. As The Tonight Show stagehands scurried about the set the night after NBC announced it would stick with Leno, he cracked, "It's amazing how quickly they move when you're the only thing they have left." Later he quieted the audience, hooting over a double entendre he made to Katie Couric, by bellowing, "Hey, I'm the King of Late Night now." The same night, Letterman, in the middle of his Top 10 list for best things about being a lame-duck President ("Don't have to kiss up to Larry King anymore"), slipped in one of his own: "Shows don't have to be very good until we get to CBS."