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Susan, in which Shields plays a San Francisco columnist who writes about being single, is the top-rated new series of the season, consistently ranking in the Top 5. In other words, Shields currently enjoys a larger audience than Roseanne, Brett Butler or Ellen DeGeneres. But she is the same old Brookie, ravishing as ever but still in need of firm vocational guidance.
The ratings' triumph of Suddenly Susan can be attributed only to its berth. Any show that follows the enormously popular Seinfeld will start well. (NBC could leave the air dead for that half hour, and the next morning everyone would be talking about that new sitcom Snow.) Suddenly Susan is situation comedy at its most uninspired, except for the razzy performance of Kathy Griffin as Shields's coworker and the perversely unexpected presence of onetime Brat Packer Judd Nelson as her boss. As for Shields, she has learned to mock her coltish clunkiness and to make faces, although these do not for one second make her any less lovely. They are but ripples disturbing the surface of a clear lake.
I am grateful that, unlike unfunny sitcom stars Cybill Shepherd and Candice Bergen, Shields does not think the way to get a laugh is to bellow and bluster her way through her dialogue. Bergen sounds like a cathedral bell out of control: Drrrrrom! Drrrrrom! I prefer Shields's sweet vulnerability to their vulgar energy.
Her show is just as vulnerable. Should NBC ever move it out of that post-Seinfeld spot, Suddenly Susan will go just as quickly dead. And Shields? She will be adrift again, searching for a vehicle. I hope she steers clear of sitcoms.