As she has proved in movies like Working Girl
and In & Out
(both brought her Oscar nominations), Joan Cusack is an enormously gifted comic actress. And this new series is nothing if not a showcase for the star's talents. Yet there were times during the first two episodes (March 27 and April 3) when I wanted to tell her, "Relax—you passed the audition already."
In the pilot, Chicago high school teacher Joan Gallagher (Cusack) reacts with manic incredulity when boyfriend Jake (Kyle Chandler, late of Early Edition
) pops the question in a restaurant. But the real tour de force comes when she visits his apartment to reopen the dialogue. Joan goes from inquisitorial to apologetic to bitter—briefly pausing to suggest sex between points B and C. Cu-sack's quicksilver changes left me breathless, but there's a little something missing: characterization. "You are the sweetest, kindest, funniest, most warmhearted, gentle person that I know," Jake assures Joan in episode 2. Though she's funny in a frantic way, none of the other qualities are in evidence. We might understand Joan better if she sat down for a long, calm talk with her psychiatrist friend Ruby (Donna Murphy). On the other hand there's not much more to be learned about the sexual relationship between faculty members Betsy (Jessica Hecht) and Mark (Wallace Langham). He's a creep; give him the boot.
Bottom Line: Star vehicle not yet in gearThe WB (Sundays, 8:30 p.m. ET)
Cartoonist Angus Oblong, co-creator of this extra-edgy animated series, says it's designed for "fans who love things that make other people squirm." You know who you are.
(premiering April 1) is about a family with assorted abnormalities caused by toxic industrial waste. Bob (voiced by Saturday Night Live
's Will Ferrell) lacks limbs. His wife, Pickles (Jean Smart), is a bald alcoholic. They have conjoined twin sons, another boy who's "on everything from Ritalin to Rogaine" and a girl with something protruding from her skull. I applaud the show's robustly anticorporate satire, but I admit to discomfort at the sight of Dad spanking a kid with his head.
Bottom Line: Not for squares
Showtime (Sun., April 8, 8 p.m. ET)
Alan Alda might not be the first actor you'd think of to play Willie Walters, an aging, bad-tempered, chrome-domed talent agent in late-'50s New York City. But Alda is so fiercely determined to make the role his own that the effort alone makes this film worth watching.
Steven Weber, whose father and grandfather were agents, wrote the flavorful script and portrays Stuey, Willie's browbeaten son and business partner. Club Land
keeps us wondering about the root cause of Willie's bitterness and Stuey's guilt feelings, but a long-withheld revelation turns out to be rather anti-climactic. While we're waiting, though, director Saul Rubinek (he plays Donny on Frasier
) stylishly evokes the bygone nightlife scene, and Brad Garrett (Everybody Loves Raymond
) gives a sharp supporting performance as an arrogant comedian who's the only heavyweight on Willie's dwindling client roster. An uncredited Eugene Levy adds a funny turn as a Catskills hotelier.
Bottom Line: Fairly successful
PBS (Thursdays, April 5 and 12 and April 26-May 17; 9 p.m. ET)
Show of the week
He runs his fingers along the walls of ill-lit corridors and uses a magnifying glass to read in the privacy of his office. When a crime scene is too blurry, he relies on a loyal subordinate to guide him past stumbling blocks. But how much longer can Detective Chief Inspector Ross Tanner (Croupier
star Clive Owen) keep the London police department from finding out that he's losing his eyesight to a rare disease?
Introduced on Mystery
! in 1999, Tanner returns this month as head of a special unit assigned to high-profile homicides. The first two-part story, concerning the murder of a "superstar violinist," gets a bit too caught up in its twisty plot. But in Tanner's next two cases, character development takes precedence and our fascination steadily grows. Plagued by hallucinations as well as hazy vision, the sleuth forms a strange bond with a seductive sleepwalker (Josephine Butler) suspected of killing her fiancé. Once that mystery is solved, Tanner probes the murder of a black youth leader and matches wits with a wily, blind ex-con (Peter Vaughan), who senses the cop's secret weakness. Through it all, Owen skillfully conveys Tanner's pride, fear and penetrating insight.
Bottom Line: 20/20
>Sunday, April 8 NAKED STATES HBO (10 p.m. ET)
An America Undercover
documentary bares all about an artist who toured the country photographing nudes in public.
Monday, April 9 THIRD WATCH NBC (10 p.m. ET)
Catch this: New York Giants cornerback Jason Sehorn guest-stars as a cocky firefighter.
Tuesday, April 10 VH1 DIVAS LIVE VH1 (9 p.m. ET)
Aretha Franklin demands R-E-S-P-E-C-T in a concert that also features Janet Jackson
Wednesday, April 11 HISTORY'S MYSTERIES History Channel (8 p.m. ET) The True Story of Brave-heart
profiles the Scottish hero of Mel Gibson's film.
Thursday, April 12 ASTEROIDS: DEADLY IMPACT PBS (10 p.m. ET)
An encore National Geographic
special looks up at flying meteors.
Friday, April 13 MAKING THE BAND ABC (8 p.m. ET)
The boy group O-Town returns for a second season of pop reality.
Saturday, April 14 TRL ALL STAR SPECIAL MTV (1 p.m. ET)
Check out clips of Destiny's Child and Green Day before they hit it big
ABC (Tuesdays, 9:30 p.m. ET)