"It was the music that made the decade," says a FOX press release for That '80s Show
. So take a tip: If you paid more attention to Ronald Reagan than Duran Duran, you're probably not one of this new sitcom's target viewers.
Reagan did rate a mention in the so-so premiere (Jan. 23) of this sitcom—produced, not surprisingly, by the makers of That '70s Show
—but he doesn't figure to be much discussed at the small San Diego record store that employs Corey (Glenn Howerton) and Tuesday (Chyler Leigh). "You're not punk, you're retro," aspiring singer-songwriter Corey told spiky-haired Tuesday with a sneer. "I was at a Sex Pistols concert while you were listening to the Bay City Rollers in your Barbie jammies." That's cold, but guess what? He's starting to dig her by episode 2. Their boss, Margaret (Margaret Smith), tends to make older music references, claiming close relationships with Jim Morrison and Creedence (as in Clearwater Revival). Though definitely retro, deadpan Margaret gets more laughs than her clerks.
The show is positively panting to establish that Sophia (Brittany Daniel), Corey's ex-girlfriend, has the hots for his sister Katie (Tinsley Grimes). You can almost hear the writers whisper, "Bisexuality—oh, wow." There's greater comic potential in the marketing strategies of RT (Geoff Pierson), Corey's sleazy dad.
Bottom Line: Hard to leg-warm up to
ABC (Tuesdays, 8 p.m. ET)
FOX (Fridays, 8 p.m. ET)
What a mess. ABC and FOX have sued each other over the issue of who ripped off whom in the creation of these somewhat similar game shows that premiered in mid-January. There's only one equitable way to resolve this: Take both off the air.
Okay, that's unfairly dismissive. There are notable differences between The Chair
and The Chamber
. On the ABC entry, emceed by tennis great John McEnroe, each player leans back in what looks like a dentist's chair and tries to ace a quiz while maintaining his or her heart rate below a certain level. It's essentially a test of self-control, made more difficult by occasional distractions—like leaping flames or a dangling alligator. The FOX show emphasizes endurance, with contestants entering a torture chamber—repeatedly described as "hellish" by host Rick Schwartz—and attempting to withstand extreme temperatures, high winds and bad vibrations. Oh, they also have to keep their blood pressure and pulse rate out of the "danger zone" and answer questions such as "Which restaurant serves its trademark Grand Slam Breakfast?"
McEnroe, mocking his reputation for on-court tantrums, is the more likable host. His eyes seem to say, "I can't believe I'm involved in this, but what the hell." On the other hand, The Chair
looks rather tame compared with The Chamber
, which is louder, sweatier and more sadistic. The last thing TV needs is Fear Factor
elements grafted onto the quiz-show format. But if this is a trend, FOX may have the edge.
Bottom Line: Not for the weak—or the wise
TV Land (Fridays in February, 9 p.m. ET)
There haven't been nearly enough black people on the tube in the past half-century, but there have been way too many to cover thoroughly in the three hour-long installments of this Inside TV Land
special. African-Americans in Television
, though it sometimes leaves us begging for more information and insight, does a respectable job of hitting the historical highlights and recognizing efforts that were worthy but short-lived.
The hour devoted to variety (premiering Feb. 1 and repeating Feb. 8) calls deserved attention to Nat King Cole's NBC show of 1956-57 as well as Flip Wilson's '70s hit on that network. The program on drama (Feb. 15) includes Cicely Tyson's breakthrough role as a regular on East Side/West Side
(1963-64) in addition to her 1974 triumph in The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman
. Part 3, on comedy (Feb. 22), features The Cosby Show
, naturally, but doesn't neglect Tim Reid's low-rated treasure Frank's Place
Too bad the special has to leave questions hanging as it rushes to complete the course. Was the demise of Arsenio Hall's late-night show a racial matter? What were those "creative differences" on the City of Angels
production team? Sorry, time's up.
Bottom Line: Ambitious to a fault
Turner Classic Movies (Tues., Feb. 5, 8 p.m. ET)
Show of the week
Do you drum your fingers at the local multiplex, wondering how many more trailers you'll have to sit through before the actual motion picture begins? If so, you're bound to enjoy this celebration of the bygone era when "selected short subjects"—ranging from newsreels to musical numbers to Three Stooges slapstick—preceded the feature. Added Attractions
(narrated by Chevy Chase) contains a wealth of varied clips, including looks at Laurel and Hardy, Burns and Allen and Babe Ruth. Those interviewed recall a production process that stressed creativity and spontaneity as well as economy. The 90-minute special, which kicks off TCM's February shorts festival, is a nostalgic treat.
Bottom Line: Long on fun
Sunday, Feb. 3 SUPER BOWL XXXVI FOX (6 p.m. ET) If football from New Orleans doesn't excite you, get pumped for Paul McCartney's pregame gig.
Monday, Feb. 4 HEROES OF BLACK COMEDY Comedy Central (10 p.m. ET) Start laughing your way through a five-part look at such jokesters as Richard Pryor and Chris Rock.
Tuesday, Feb. 5 MANSIONS OF GLAMOUR Travel Channel (8 p.m. ET) This tour of upscale housing offers a peek at Scotland's Skibo Castle, where Madonna
tied the knot.
Wednesday, Feb. 6 THE QUEEN'S STORY PBS (9 p.m. ET) A two-hour documentary examines Elizabeth II's character as her reign nears the 50-year mark.
Thursday, Feb. 7 WILL & GRACE NBC (9 p.m. ET) Matt Damon
guest stars as Jack's rival for a coveted spot in a gay men's chorus.
Friday, Feb. 8 WINTER OLYMPICS NBC (8 p.m. ET) Coverage from Salt Lake City includes the opening ceremony and ski jumping.
Saturday, Feb. 9 THE MIDDLE PASSAGE HBO (10:05 p.m. ET) A haunting drama depicts the brutal voyage of African slaves to America.
FOX (Wednesdays, 8 p.m. ET)