Picks and Pans Review: Meanwhile, Elsewhere on the Dial
Next week we see the networks' first prime-time premieres (don't cheer; it's a damned dismal season). But the big boys aren't the only ones with new series. Amid almost 10 million hours of American TV broadcast in a year, there are lots of first-run (as opposed to rerun) syndicated series. These new game shows, sitcoms and such are sold to independent, network or cable stations to air whenever they please, which is why you have to comb your local listings to find them. Sometimes the search pays off with a decent show like last year's Throb. Syndication has become a force too big to ignore, so now we look at a few new "syndie" shows.
OUT OF THIS WORLD
Puberty will look like a picnic compared to the other big things that'll hit Maureen Flannigan—as little Evie—when she turns 13. Flannigan doesn't know what's in store, but her single mom, Donna (Angie) Pescow, does. "No changes yet?" Pescow asks anxiously on the big birthday. Flannigan looks down at her chest and moans, "Still flat." But later Flannigan puts her fingers together and discovers that she can stop time. She finds out that she may be able to float, become invisible and see through walls. "Your father is an alien," Mom finally explains. "Like Mr. Lopez?" the daughter asks. "No, more like E.T.," Mom says. "Oh, Mom," Flannigan whines, "that's so yucky!" So there's the plot: Bewitched meets My Favorite Martian. Out of This World' is sweet but a little salty, too, and just charming enough to make it the best of this bunch of sitcoms.
SHE'S THE SHERIFF
I don't know about you, America, but I couldn't wait to see the sitcom Suzanne Somers plugged when she played host on The Late Show. Well, here it is: She's the Sheriff. Or: A dumb blonde with a gun. Actually, Somers doesn't act quite as dumb here as she did in Three's Company. Or more to the point: Everyone around her acts even dumber. Her deputies sit all day trying to list the Seven Dwarfs. "You only got six. You're short a dwarf," says one deputy. "Excuse me," says another, "aren't dwarfs supposed to be short?" Oh, stop it, please. No more. My sides hurt from all the hilarity. My brain hurts from all the sophistication.
But here we plumb new depths in TV dumbness with this slapstick show about rich folks and their silly servants. There's nothing wrong with slapstick. Perfect Strangers does it well. I Love Lucy made it into an art form. But these people couldn't find a cream pie if it hit them in the face.
YOU CAN'T TAKE IT WITH YOU
It started in 1936 as a Pulitzer prizewinning play, then became an Oscar-winning movie, then a Broadway revival. But how the mighty do fall: Now it's a sitcom. Harry (M*A*S*H) Morgan stars as a loony grandpa overseeing a wacky clan including Lois Nettleton as an artist, Richard (WKRP) Sanders as an inventor and two kids—a stockbroker and a teenager. Theirs is supposed to be a gentle, homespun kind of humor. Says Harry: "There's an easy way for a woman to become a man's boss. Marry him." The producers say the story's been updated. To me it just looks dated.
WE GOT IT MADE
Why, oh why, would they bring this all-breast-meat turkey back from the dead? We Got It Made, a flop of a jiggle show from 1983, returns with the same insipid, sexist plot: Two bachelors hire shapely, sexy Teri Copley as their maid. Junk.
Rejoice! Not once in his new sitcom does Jimmie (Good Times) Walker shout, "Dyn-o-mite." He's a little calmer now—but just a little. In a role roughly based on Richard Pryor's 1981 movie, Bustin' Loose, Walker plays a con sentenced to community service, taking care of four cute foster children for a beautiful social worker (Vonetta McGee). In the episode I saw, there are a few good lines: McGee gets home from work, bushed, and growls, "I'm sorry, but I just don't feel like being Mrs. Cosby tonight." There are also a few overdone lines, most from Walker's lips. Not bad, not great. Just OK.
WIN, LOSE OR DRAW
There will be a daytime NBC version of this game with a mystery host yet to be named. But the nighttime syndicated version already boasts Bert Convy as host; he's also co-executive producer with Burt Reynolds. In the "sneak preview" pilot, Burt, Bert and their buddies Loni Anderson, Betty White and Tony Danza play a pleasant parlor (or in '80s parlance, rec room) game, a kind of charades on paper. Without speaking, Burt (not to be confused with Bert) draws clues to get his team of men to guess the secret words "Betsy Ross." When Tony Danza doesn't recognize the Founding Seamstress, Burt hits him with a pillow. The men lose, and the women win money for their non-celebrity teammate. That's how it works. The game has none of the intellectual stimulation of, say, Wheel of Fortune. But it's a kick. If future guest stars Donna Mills, Annie Potts, Ed Marinaro, Lynn Redgrave and Dom DeLuise are as good as this bunch, Win, Lose or Draw will be the funniest game show on TV.
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