Sue Murphy, the main character in this new series starring stand-up comic Sue Costello, is a woman in her twenties who works in a South Boston bah and, incidentally, is not licensed to drive a cah. Determined to prove she is smaht, Sue learns fancy words like "capacious" and "obtuse," but her vocabulary is dominated by common vulgarities slightly sanitized for TV. You might say Sue comes by her style of expression naturally. Listen to her father (Dan Lauria, the dad on The Wonder Years) on the subject of Sue's shrink: "That freakin' mind-screwah. I'm gonna kick her [short word for posterior]."
We should concentrate on what the characters have to say, not on how they talk, but this sitcom makes that hahd to do. The publicity material highlights the dialect coach who schooled the supporting cast in the proper blue-collar Boston accent (as a "Southie" native, Costello needed no tutoring), and the dialogue sometimes seems designed to show off the effectiveness of his instruction. One episode offers seven cahs in less than 15 seconds. The crudities are frequent, the volume is high, and the actions occasionally speak even louder than the words. The low point of last month's premiere came when Sue brawled with her ex-boyfriend's trampy new girlfriend (Josie DiVincenzo) while the male bar patrons cheered. Though her acting skills are rudimentary, Costello is a likable performer; her character's enrollment in college could lead to Educating Rita-type laughs. But this show needs to smahten up and tone it down.
Bottom Line: A sitcom that's more low-class than working-class
HBO (Sun., Oct. 4, 8 p.m. ET)
Show of the Week
Civil war takes a particularly cruel toll. To the lives it destroys, add the lives it distorts by turning friends into enemies. Shot Through the Heart, based on a true story, powerfully personalizes the ethnic conflict that tore apart the former Yugoslavian republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina between 1992 and 1995. Once teammates on a Yugoslavian target-shooting team, longtime friends Vlado (Linus Roache, The Wings of the Dove) and Slavko (Vincent Perez, Indochine) become rivals in deadly marksmanship. Slavko is drafted into the Serbian army, serving as a sniper assigned to rain terror on the besieged Bosnian capital of Sarajevo. Vlado, a Croat married to a Muslim (Lia Williams), takes up a rifle in defense of the city—and finds Slavko in his sights. Filmed in Sarajevo and Budapest, the movie captures the agonizing feeling of being trapped in a city where any upper-story apartment is a possible sniper's nest and just sitting on your front step can get you killed.
Bottom Line: Drama scores a direct hit
TNT (Sun., Oct. 4, 8 p.m. ET)
It's not exactly a new idea to satirize sensation-mongering tabloid journalists and high-priced, cynical lawyers, but this TV movie skewers these familiar targets zestfully most of the time. James Garner stars as a big-name Los Angeles mouthpiece who demurs when asked to serve as attorney of record for an actress (Gina Gershon) accused of murdering her brother-in-law. Instead, Garner taps a rookie lawyer (Edward Kerr) to serve as front man, while he directs the defense from behind the scenes. "It's a hell of a challenge, don't you think?" Garner says. "Trying to win a case without even being in it." Garner fits comfortably into the role of mentor-manipulator, and Kathleen Turner (who seems to have matured from a temptress into a dragon lady) takes evident pleasure in playing the heavy-breathing host of a TV scandal show in the Hard Copy mold. But we don't buy the uncontrollable lust that Kerr supposedly inspires in Garner's associate (Mary-Louise Parker), and we're disappointed by the film's perfunctory attempt to push Kerr into a crisis of conscience. It's almost grounds for dismissal when his long-lost hayseed father (Brian Doyle-Murray) shows up to provide ethical counsel.
Bottom Line: A good case, but not airtight
ABC (Tuesdays, 9:30 p.m. ET)
If you're familiar with ESPN's SportsCenter, you know the anchors often spike the nightly sports news with humor. So why not do a comedy series about the people who put together a similar, fictional show? Home run, touchdown, punch line—simple as ABC. But creator Aaron Sorkin, who wrote the scripts for A Few Good Men and The American President, clearly isn't content to play games with Sports Night. Consider the second episode (Sept. 29), in which a coanchor (Josh Charles) is pressured into issuing an on-air apology for seeming to favor the legalization of marijuana in a magazine interview. A meeting involving Charles, the executive producer (Robert Guillaume) and the network suits is funny yet genuinely tense. In its depiction of corporate politics television-style, the scene approaches the high standard set by The Larry Sanders Show. On the other hand, each of the first two episodes contains comparatively flat passages played in the manner of a standard workplace sitcom. To confuse things further, both episodes end with Sports Night suddenly taking itself too seriously. Sorkin's acting team—also including Peter Krause as the other anchor and Felicity Huffman as the workaholic producer—has the tools. We're betting that with experience, this inconsistent show can find a way to win. Junking that soft but distracting laugh track would be a positive step.
Bottom Line: Talented rookie requires patient handling
NBC (Mondays, 8:30 p.m. ET)
Coming up with an original situation comedy isn't easy. Neither is finding a fresh way to say that Conrad Bloom is a little too remindful of other NBC shows about New York City singles with media-related jobs. Call it Conrad in the City. Call it Suddenly Conrad. Conrad Bad would be unfair; Conrad Bland would not.
Mark Feuerstein—formerly of Caroline in the City, which follows Conrad in the Monday lineup—is mildly appealing as the title character, a 28-year-old advertising copywriter who, judging from the show's premiere, is the kind of guy women love. Agency art director Shelley (Jessica Stone) loves him as a friend; so does his best pal, an insecure photographer named Molly (Lauren Graham). His widowed mother (Linda Lavin, overqualified for the part) loves to make him feel guilty, and his sister Nina (Ever Carradine), a flighty all-purpose activist, loves it when he bails her out of trouble. The demands attached to all this non-romantic love apparently will leave Conrad short of time for sex. Lavin is funny in a future episode when her character goes to work in a packing center, but we fear Barney Miller veteran Steve Landesberg may be too limited by the role of a has-been adman with a drug-fried brain.
Bottom Line: Creativity is not in Bloom
>Sunday, Oct 4 SABRINA GOES TO ROME ABC (7 p.m. ET) The teenage witch of the ABC series gets a TV-movie trip to the Eternal City. Arrivederci, baby.
Monday, Oct. 5 DIRESTA UPN (8:30 p.m. ET) Just what you need after your Monday commute: a sitcom debut about a New York City transit cop.
Tuesday, Oct. 6 LITTLE GIRL FLYAWAY CBS (9 p.m. ET)
Someone's trying to kill Mare Winningham—maybe—in this TV movie.
Wednesday, Oct. 7 CHARMED THE WB (9 p.m. ET) Shannen Doherty goes supernatural in the premiere of a series that seeks to bewitch you.
Thursday, Oct. 8 COLUMBO: ASHES TO ASHES ABC (9 p.m. ET) Patrick McGoohan thinks he can fool Peter Falk in this TV movie. Fat chance.
Friday, Oct. 9 BROTHER'S KEEPER ABC (9:30 p.m. ET)
It's the third quarter—er, week—for this sitcom about a professor and his bro, a football pro.
Saturday, Oct. 10 JOHN LEGUIZAMO: FREAK HBO (10 p.m. ET) The comic actor pours out childhood memories in a solo special based on his 1998 Broadway show.
FOX (Tuesdays, 8:30 p.m. ET)