It's about four teenage friends who talk about sex a lot. It's on The WB. So the easy thing would be to describe this show as a comedy version of Dawson's Creek. Except a comedy is supposed to earn laughs, and Zoe, Duncan, Jack & Jane doesn't have that part down yet.
From the first phone conversation in the Jan. 17 premiere, it's clear these New York City kids are articulate. Zoe (Selma Blair) remarks that Jane does not seem "transplendently happy." Jane (Azura Skye, Cab to Canada) observes that "a certain amount of self-flagellation is healthy." You've got to like the polysyllables, but the pilot's main plotline is uncomfortably unfunny. High schooler Zoe tries to get closer to a cute college guy by pretending to befriend his ogreish, wheelchair-bound younger sister. In the second episode, Zoe expresses a readiness to lose her virginity, while Duncan (David Moscow, Newsies)—desperate for female attention in the pilot—now flees from a girl who professes to have the hots for him. The only situation that approaches amusement is an attempt by Jane and her fraternal twin, Jack (Michael Rosenbaum, Urban Legend), to put aside their bickering and feign sibling affection. The teens do a lot of chatting in a coffee shop, where they are sometimes seen with textbooks, but schoolwork is apparently a low priority barely worthy of mention. This lack of emphasis on education is disappointing, because we hear in the premiere that Zoe attends "Fielding Mellish Prep." There has to be humor at an institution named for Woody Allen's Bananas character.
Bottom Line: You may not be eager to join this small circle of friends
CBS (Thursdays, 9 p.m. ET)
This new cop series has an earnest competence that's not to be dismissed, but it may leave you with that "been there, seen that" feeling. The reliable William Devane (Knots Landing) stars as Joe Turk, a Chicago police sergeant with two sons who are straight-arrow cops (David Cubitt as Mike and Matthew John Armstrong as Joey) and another (Michael Muhney as Paul) with gambling debts and unsavory associations. In the Jan. 21 pilot, Joey sees Paul fleeing a burglary scene, setting up a plotline that is resolved unconvincingly in the second episode. Meanwhile, patriarch Joe (so upright that he admonishes a politician to pay a parking ticket) contemplates an adulterous affair with the comely waitress (Ashley Crow) at the cops' favorite bar. What's a guy to do when his chilly wife (Helen Carey) hasn't been in the mood for sex in over two years? The cast is solid, but the police drama seems tame compared with the likes of NYPD Blue. Turks could use more of Chicago's rough textures and fewer postcard shots of the cityscape.
Bottom Line: Needs more than good acting to stand out from the cop crowd
ABC (Sun., Jan. 24, 7 p.m. ET)
Show of the week
Cute kids, fantasy plot, silly comedy—sounds like a routine Wonderful World of Disney movie, big-name director Peter Bogdanovich (The Last Picture Show) notwithstanding. But A Saintly Switch had me in stitches, thanks to David Alan Grier. The children (Shadia Simmons and Scott Owen Cumberbatch) cast a magic spell that causes their dad (In Living Color alumnus Grier) and mom (Vivica A. Fox, late of Getting Personal) to trade personalities. So Grier gets to play a woman trapped in the male body of a New Orleans Saints quarterback, and he runs with the opportunity as if this were the Super Bowl of farce. Illogic and sexist stereotypes abound, but just try not to laugh when Grier takes the snap from center with eyes closed and body braced for a bruising. Fox's macho swagger isn't bad, either.
Bottom Line: Touchdown
Showtime (Sun., Jan. 24, 8 p.m. ET)
"I may be senile, but I'm not crazy," insists Mace Sowell (Patrick Stewart, from the Star Trek saga), a recluse who claims to be a former intelligence agent marked for murder by an ex-boss turned presidential candidate. But just about everybody else in this film dismisses Mace as nothing more than a retired government PR man with a muddled mind. A psychiatrist (Chicago Hope's Hector Elizondo) sees his paranoia as a sign of early Alzheimer's disease. Mace's daughter (Joy Kilpatrick) makes him accept an in-home caregiver (Kimberly Williams, formerly of Relativity), who tolerates his mania for personal security without appearing to take it seriously. But even if Mace is losing his grip, couldn't he still be in danger of losing his life?
The premise is so intriguing, and Stewart's performance so mercurial, that you're almost sure to stay with Safe House. But the thriller plays its comic elements too broadly (partial blame goes to Craig Shoemaker, Magic Johnson's former talk show sidekick, as the pool cleaner who assists Mace in security drills), taxes viewer patience with false scares and strains credulity when it finally explains exactly what evil deeds the candidate seeks to cover up.
Bottom Line: Paranoia aplenty, but not perfection
PBS (Sun.-Mon., Jan. 24-25, 9 p.m. ET)
With the Middle East peace process stalled once again (as Israel awaits a May election), the time is right to absorb this balanced five-hour documentary on the Arab-Israeli conflict. An exhaustive history by television standards, the British-made program covers all the major developments, from the founding of Israel in 1948 to the wars of 1967 and 1973 to the short-lived optimism generated by last fall's Wye River agreement. Filled with fascinating details and insider accounts (from interviewees including former Presidents Jimmy Carter and George Bush and Jordan's King Hussein), the documentary tells its story almost entirely from the point of view of diplomats, political leaders and military men. What the viewer misses is more testimony of average Israelis and Arabs—the ones who have fought this seemingly endless war on the ground, and the ones who must long for peace.
Bottom Line: Valuable upper-level history course
>Sunday, Jan. 24 GOLDEN GLOBE AWARDS NBC (8 p.m. ET) It's like an Oscar-Emmy combo as movie and TV stars queue up for honors.
Monday, Jan. 25 DILBERT UPN (8 p.m. ET) Don't stay late at the office or you might miss the opener of this animated series based on the workplace comic strip.
Tuesday, Jan. 26 FIGHT LIKE A GIRL A&E (9 p.m. ET) That's "woman" to you, buster. Inside Story reports on the fierce rivalry of two female boxers.
Wednesday, Jan. 27 ENCORE! ENCORE! NBC (9:30 p.m. ET) Nathan Lane's character, an ex-opera star, butters up a diva-like wine critic (guest Patti LuPone).
Thursday, Jan. 28 HEAT OF THE SUN PBS (9 p.m. ET) Don't sweat it. A cool sleuth in '30s Kenya starts a five-week Mystery! run.
Friday, Jan. 29 SHADOW OF DOUBT Cinemax (8 p.m. ET) No objection. Melanie Griffith stars in this cable premiere as defense counsel in a big murder case.
Saturday, Jan. 30 NFL COMEDY BLITZ CBS (8 p.m. ET) Brett Favre and Bill Maher are among the stars as jocks join jokesters for a Super Bowl Eve special.
The WB (Sundays, 9 p.m. ET)