Picks and Pans Review: Steambath

updated 08/27/1984 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 08/27/1984 AT 01:00 AM EDT

Showtime (Saturday, Aug. 25, 9:35 p.m. ET)

A play by Bruce Jay (The Lonely Guy's Book of Life) Friedman, Steambath started with one of the theater's most inventive and intriguing ideas: Imagine that Heaven is a steam bath and that God is its Puerto Rican attendant. The play was made into a PBS special in 1973 and now Showtime has made it into a series. José Perez quite nicely reprises his PBS performance in the ultimate starring role: He is God. As deities go, Perez is more enigmatic than George (Oh, God!) Burns and not so kindly. From an electronic window on the world, he meddles in life on Earth: God has a bowler miss a 300 game by one pin and then has him shoot up the bowling alley with a shotgun; yet after that God decrees, "Interferon research goes good today." God has guests: Newcomer Janis Ward takes over Valerie Perrine's PBS role of Meredith, the simple, sweet, sexy one. She died watching TV in her bathtub; her last thought was simply "Ted Koppel's hair." Robert Picardo amateurishly takes up Bill Bixby's PBS role of Tandy, a singles' bar kinda guy who died eating stale sushi. Add to the cast a New York cab-driver, a gay couple who pointlessly break into song and dance, a waiter who serves sandwiches to God and others passing through to only God knows where. The writing is often fresh and funny—the pilot was written by Dan (How to Be a Jewish Mother) Greenburg. For example, Tandy challenges God's credentials with a bad ethnic joke: "Next you're going to tell me you wrote the Scripture with a can of spray paint." In another episode God scolds a druggist for staying open on the Sabbath and for workaholism: "Guys like you really frost my ass. I give you my primo stuff, the miracle of life, and you put it on hold." That's one of many morals to the story. But the direction and half the actors bury some of the best lines—six feet under. And there's a more basic problem: Once you've been intrigued by the idea of Steambath, there isn't much more to say, at least not past one episode.

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