How to describe Sammo Hung? An overfed Jackie Chan? A Chinese Chuck Norris (whose Walker, Texas Ranger follows Hung's Martial Law on Saturday nights)? A kung fu William Conrad (rotund detective hero of the '70s CBS series Cannon)? Fact is, words failed us when we first saw the doughy martial artist from Hong Kong demolish a bad guy on this new tongue-in-cheek cop show. Lethal hands, lightning-fast feet and one or two extra chins—you don't come across that combo too often.
Hung, whose movie credits include the charmingly titled Enter the Fat Dragon, plays a Shanghai policeman who traveled to Los Angeles on a case and now finds himself officially assigned to the LAPD. The series' comedic appeal lies largely in the contrast between Hung's unimpressive appearance and his awesome destructive power. If you also get a kick out of his deadpan version of acting and his limited facility with English, you'll want to hang weekly with Hung. If not, catch Martial Law at least once as a conversation piece—provided the fight scenes don't leave you speechless.
Bottom Line: Plenty of chops, socks and yuks
PBS (Wed., Oct. 28, 9 p.m. ET)
Show of the week
Early in this two-hour biography, we glimpse the maestro in all his glory: jumping, swooning and sweating as he conducts Mahler's Fifth Symphony. Leonard Bernstein, who died of a heart attack in 1990 at 72, practiced what conductor Michael Tilson Thomas calls ecstatic music-making. Reflecting on his emotional abandon at the podium, Bernstein says here, "I'm absolutely lost in the music and with my musicians—breathing with them, pulsing with them." Watching this remarkably rich documentary, you'll feel similarly connected to the life of the subject. Subtitled Reaching for the Note, the film captures the heartbeat of a man who personified classical music to millions of Americans through his leadership of the New York Philharmonic (1958-69) and his TV stardom in CBS's Young People's Concerts (1958-72). He also made an indelible mark in the popular realm by writing the scores for West Side Story and On the Town. Bernstein's life was not without dissonance. He struggled to play his anomalous role as bisexual husband and father, and he was hurt by criticism that he preferred showboating with a baton to the lonely work of composing "serious" music for the ages. But what comes through most clearly is Bernstein's need to share his musical passions in the here and now. "Whatever I've enjoyed," we hear him say, "I want others to enjoy." So enjoy.
Bottom Line: Bravissimo!
CBS (Sun., Oct. 25, 9 p.m. ET)
"There are no fairy-tale endings in real life," insists the principal male character in this TV-movie reworking of Beauty and the Beast. Fortunately, CBS is not in the habit of broadcasting real life right after Touched by an Angel. Jamey Sheridan plays a reclusive mystery writer with acromegaly, a disease marked by enlargement of the bones in the face and extremities. Janine Turner [Northern Exposure) is the beautiful portrait painter who falls in love with him despite his conviction that his appearance dooms him to unhappiness. (In truth, he doesn't look all that beastly.) The stars do what they can, but this is the sort of trite script that requires an actor to cry out, "I don't want your pity!"
Bottom Line: Old-fashioned, soppy romance
UPN (Tuesdays, 9:00 p.m. ET)
The diseases are a little different in this new hospital drama. In the series opener the 23rd-century healers frantically sought the antidote for a computer virus that was infecting humans. (No one suggested the delete key.) The staff is a little different too. In this deep-space facility you've got a gorgeous head nurse who happens to be a cyborg and one particularly pompous physician of an alien species who looks as if he has a snake growing out of his neck. But underneath the futuristic surface is a standard medical ensemble effort whose strongest point is the skillful performance of Joe Morton [The Brother from Another Planet) as a doctor who is totally dedicated and—though expert in alien physiology—totally human.
Bottom Line: Familiar medical drama in a sci-fi setting
ABC (Fridays, 9:30 p.m. ET)
This new sitcom is surprisingly easy to like if you can overlook its farfetched premise. Bobby (Sean O'Bryan), a trouble-prone pro football player, is traded from New York to San Francisco and given a multimillion-dollar, multi-year contract on the condition that he live with a responsible party. So, without so much as a warning phone call, he turns up on the doorstep of older brother Porter (William Ragsdale, Herman's Head), a college professor and widower with an 8-year-old son, Oscar (Justin Cooper). Be not amazed at how Porter could have kept himself almost entirely ignorant of Bobby's career. (Pretend that "I don't read the sports section" is a convincing explanation.) Just accept the idea that uptight Porter and impish Bobby will spend the series arguing about whether it's better to raise Oscar on apples and education or Popsicles and recreation. O'Bryan and Ragsdale demonstrate big-league comic teamwork, and the writers of this family-friendly show even throw in a few lines for adults who read the sports section: "Congratulations, you're a father," Porter says sarcastically when his brother horns in on the parenting. "Never say that to a pro athlete," Bobby replies. "Not even as a joke."
Bottom Line: Tough to believe but not to enjoy
>Sunday, Oct. 25 THIRST NBC (9 p.m. ET) Parched? Adam Arkin stars in this TV movie about a killer parasite in a city's water supply.
Monday, Oct. 26 RETURN TO ORBIT Discovery Channel (8 p.m. ET) Sen. John Glenn's comeback as an astronaut is the hook for three hours of documentaries on space.
Tuesday, Oct. 27 BRIMSTONE FOX (9 p.m. ET) Hot damn. It's the debut of a series about a dead cop hunting demons.
Wednesday, Oct. 28 FRIARS ROAST OF DREW CAREY Comedy Central (10:30 p.m. ET) Fellow comics razz the sitcom star unmercifully.
Thursday, Oct. 29 DON'T LOOK DOWN ABC (9 p.m. ET) Hollywood thriller master Wes Craven (Scream) presents a TV movie in which heights are highly scary.
Friday, Oct. 30 MARTIAN MANIA Sci-Fi Channel (9 p.m. ET) Titanic director James Cameron is host for a look at Orson Welles's panic-inducing War of the Worlds broadcast of 1938.
Saturday, Oct. 31 I KNOW WHAT YOU DID LAST SUMMER HBO (8 p.m. ET) And you know Jennifer Love Hewitt starred in this 1997 thriller.
CBS (Saturdays, 9 p.m. ET)