ABC (Wednesdays, 10:30 P.M. ET)
Teri (Tootsie) Garr and Margaret (A Fine Romance) Whitton star in this fatuous farce as diametrically opposite sisters. Whitton is sweet and selfless; Garr is ruthless and self-absorbed. The show is an obvious and insipid attempt by writer-producer Susan Harris to re-create the wicked humor of her '70s cult hit, Soap.
In this case, the strained jokes ("David, boy, are you one lucky bronco. You're rich, you're young and you can still see your willy without a mirror") degrade a strong cast, including Mark (Fridays) Blankfield, Brooke [Just the Ten of Us) Theiss, Sherman (Superboy) Howard, Lane (Santa Barbara) Davies and Lane (Good Spoils) Smith. (Hey, a two-Lane show!) Veteran stage actress Marian Seldes, as the family matriarch, handles the corrosive dialogue with the most aplomb. To give it its due, Good & Evil has a last-forward pacing that makes it one of the quickest half hours on TV. Thank goodness.
Fox (Thursdays, 8:30 P.M. ET)
Dabney (Buffalo Bill) Coleman is trapped in the season's worst sitcom, an abysmal show in which he plays a callous and cynical grade-school teacher, a graduate of the W. Fields School of Childcare.
How bad is it? Well, by ominous happenstance, the first episode of Drexell's Class actually used the same plot as the season opener for Growing Pains: teaching the law of gravity by allowing rowdy students to drop objects out the classroom window. When your best idea is the same as the umpteenth idea of the most creatively bankrupt show on the air, you're in deep, deep trouble. In the second episode, Coleman gets tied up and tortured by one of his young charges. Gee, maybe; that was their best idea.
You'd think that trading insults with a pack of smart-mouthed fifth graders, Coleman would win the battle of wits. Think again. "Go play tetherball with that downed power line" and "Why don't you go hug that junkyard dog next door?" are as sharp as this show gets. Randy Graff, Dakin Matthews and A. Langer costar, but let's hope not for long.
CBS (Fridays, 8:30 P.M. ET)
The latest show from producer Gary David (Family Ties) Goldberg is this vivid nostalgicom, an ethnicized version of The Wonder Years, about growing up Jewish in Brooklyn in 1956.
Though the exteriors look like a soundstage, once the action moves inside the family's apartment house, the visual details are wonderful. You can almost feel the worn mah-jongg tiles as grandmother (Marion Ross) and her cronies slap them on the table.
The cast is marvelous, including Amy Aquino and Peter Friedman as the parents, Louis Zorich and Ross as the Russian immigrant grandparents who live downstairs, Danny Gerard, who recently starred on Broadway in Neil Simon's Lost in Yonkers, as the 14-year-old protagonist and Matthew Siegel as his younger brother.
Gerard's precocious character can be hard to take. He's a great athlete, attractive to girls, loyal to his friends and able to rattle off a detailed history of the Suez Canal crisis off the top of his head. Goldberg troweled on the wish fulfillment a little thick here.
The episodes have grown slower and schmaltzier since the gripping pilot, but this series is still as sweet as an egg cream made with Fox's U-Bet Chocolate Syrup.
NBC (Mon., Oct. 21, 9 p.m. ET)
Lindsay (Mancuso, F.B.I.) Frost plays a woman with everything: a glamorous career as a photographer, an incredible Manhattan apartment and a constitution that allows her to eat a gallon of ice cream before dinner without gaining an ounce. Then things go bad: She gets dumped by her network news—anchor husband (Peter Bergman of The Young and the Restless)—I hate when that happens—and has a crippling accident. It takes a horse ranch bigger than the Ponderosa and a laconic, steely-eyed cowboy (Matt Houston's Lee Horsley) to put her life back together.
Eva Marie Saint and Rod Taylor costar in this tearjerker with the usual postcard settings, pulpy plot and dialogue ("I like the look of an Arabian, but I love to ride a Thoroughbred," says Saint, which for some reason provokes Frost to giggle wildly. Maybe it's a girl thing I wouldn't understand). Only Horsley, the pauper's Tom Selleck, rides out of this tar pit with his head held high.
>THE MEN'S MOVEMENT IS DEAD. YOU REMEMBER THE men's movement, one of the first identifiable megatrends of the '90s? Spearheaded by gurus such as the poet Robert Bly, it proposed the quasimystical theory that the modem male has become alienated from his masculine nature and needs to reconnect with the "wild man," that hairy, unfettered, instinctive creature inside him.
This season the movement has become the sitcoms' favorite whipping boy, er, man. On the season opener of Northern Exposure, the town deejay, Chris (John Corbett), asks Maurice (Barry Corbin) about the Bly tape he gave him. "He lost me," responds Maurice, "when he started talking about listening to the ear in your stomach." On Cheers, Frasier (Kelsey Crammer), who is reading the movement bible, Bly's Iron John, lures the barflies on what he calls "a primal search" for the "inner hairy man." His wife, Lilith (Bebe Neuwirth), teases him that in his case it must be a "receding inner hairy man." On Murphy Brown, Frank (Joe Regalbuto), armed with his own apocryphal book, New Men, Old Pain, drags the guys at FYI to a men's weekend seminar of Viking poetry, spirit bonding and tribal drumming. On Home Improvement, Tim Allen's neighbor, Wilson (Earl Hindman), natters on about "sitting around the campfire with our elders." On next week's episode of HBO's Sessions, therapist Elliott Gould figures Michael McKean's "wild man" made him call a telephone sex line. "It's what I call the primitive urge we all have inside us," Gould says.
So why does this raft of humor mean the men's movement is over? Because sitcom writers, like vultures, are scavengers, feasting only on carrion. Once you're a prime-time punch line, you're history.
The World Series begins Saturday night (Oct. 19), the climax to a baseball season CBS would probably like to forget. Already hemorrhaging from its $1.06 billion baseball contract, CBS hoped to get healthy with the postseason schedule. Instead, it got its worst nightmare: a playoff picture made up entirely of secondary-market teams—Toronto, Minnesota, Pittsburgh and Atlanta. No matter what the sport, the networks always root for the best team to win, as long as that team is from L.A., New York or Chicago.