CBS (Wednesdays, 8 p.m. ET)
This oft-delayed animated comedy has been in the works since the canine character first appeared as a short created by Tim Burton (Batman) for Steven Spielberg's mid-'80s anthology series for NBC, Amazing Stories. It sure wasn't worth the interminable delay.
The show follows the misadventures of an ungainly cur trying to win the affection of his repulsive human owners. (Martin Mull provides the voice for the big-bottomed father.) The animation is clunky (about on a par with The Pink Panther); the gags are gross and not even remotely funny.
In recent years, TV animation has evolved rapidly in terms of wit and daring with such shows as The Simpsons, Rugrats, Doug, and Ren & Stimpy. While Family Dog has been sitting on the shelf, it's gotten awfully stale.
MTV (Thursdays, 10 p.m. ET)
All right, so now we know that The Real World, MTV's soap opera vérité, isn't too real. Yes, they threw a bunch of kids who didn't know each other together in a downtown Manhattan loft and filmed the results. But when things got slow in the social petridish, the producers instigated situations that might be more dramatic. It was like those nature shows that throw a wolverine and wildcat together in a pit so they can get a good dustup on film. The Real World ping-ponged between fascination and tedium.
The second season kicks off with a tense, joyless reunion of the original New York seven, then starts introducing the new crew who will be living together for six months in a party crib in Venice, Calif. Once again the selection process labors to be systematically eclectic: There's a surfer dude, a petite policewoman, a stand-up comic, a punky Irish-born rock journalist and a Christian country singer.
Some of the first-season bugs have been exterminated simply by recruiting young roommates who are more interesting and charismatic, people who smile and laugh a little more. But we'll see how personable this group is after a few months in the MTV fishbowl. Tempers are already starling to flare by the third episode.
The Real World is essential viewing-for young adults, who are still tentalively splicing together their grown-up personalities and incorporating a lot of borrowed pieces. A program like this is a handy form of behavioral Cliffs Notes. For those who aren't twentysomething, this peep show still appeals to the curiosity we all have for the way other people live.
CBS (Fridays, 10 p.m. ET)
In this eight-week adventure comedy series, Peter Dobson (Lenny) plays a small-time New York City hood just out of jail. His ex-wife (Rose Abdoo), who until recently has been sending him death threats, is now his parole officer. Dobson has been on the streets about two hours when he's framed for the murder of a Mob kingpin. On the run from hit men and a maniacally determined Abdoo, he takes off across the country in an old RV.
The pilot, directed by series producer Robert Zemeckis (Who Framed Roger Rabbit), is a delight: funny, flavorful, punchily paced and full of great supporting actors (Dub Taylor, Art La Fleur, Brion James, Michael V. Gazzo). Once the premise has been set up and Dobson begins his flight, the series doesn't hold the road well at all. Dobson does, however, bring some engaging energy to the role of the flustered fugitive.
HBO (Sat., June 26, 8 p.m. ET)
Imagine Sam Peckinpah directing a Joseph Wambaugh story, and you have this movie about the Special Investigation Section, an elite, covert squad of LAPD detectives that specializes in catching violent repeat felons in the act of committing their crimes. That means the conviction quota is higher, but so is the mortality rate, even for innocent bystanders.
Lou Diamond Phillips heads a B-movie all-star cast that includes Scott Glenn, Yaphet Kotto, Ed Lauter and Chelsea Field. This film was made for theaters but not released because it was held to be potentially inflammatory after the Rodney King imbroglio. That means the stunts and action scenes are more impressive than most TV movies. But the language is saltier and the gunplay excessive.
Syndicated (check local listings)
Here's another youth-oriented soap opera, this one an empty Australian entry set at a seaside resort outside Brisbane. Call it Baywatch Down Under. The Aussie cast is good-looking but surfboard stiff. There's also a devious American (Matt Lattanzi) in Paradise. Lattanzi comes by his Australian connection naturally: He's married to Olivia Newton-John.
The production is cheesy, the plotting insipid. The only asset this show-does have is its suntanned scenery. Al least these half-dressed nubiles and tesrosteronis have the sense to stay out of the rose patch.
I watch TV for a living. So when I gel some time off, I like to settle back and...watch TV. Seriously, though, here are the dozen shows (in no particular order) that I consistently watched for pleasure this past season:
Seinfeld, NBC Roseanne, ABC The Simpsons, Fox Conan the Adventurer, Syndicated X-Men, Fox The Larry Sanders Show, HBO Homicide, NBC Law & Order, NBC Coach, ABC Jeopardy!, Syndicated Cops, Fox Late Night with David Letterman, NBC
I would never see Letterman (who, by the way, has his final NBC shows this week) if it weren't for the VCR. That won't change even when he shifts to CBS and an 11:30 p.m. ET slot on August 30. The sandman has visited me a lot earlier since I have had children. Today, if your show is on alter 11 p.m., I'll be seeing you on tape delay.
You know it's summer because the afternoon soaps are staging their annual pec parade. Every actor blessed with youth or a personal trainer has about three scenes a week with his shirt off. As I was watching All My Children last week, it struck me that this chesty display has gone too far. There was Edmund (John Callahan) working outdoors without his shirt or even any gloves. Fine, except he was pruning an overgrown rose garden at the time. Ouch! Most people do not strip before heading into a bramble patch.