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Will ABC's BROTHERS AND SISTERS sink or swim?


The cast of Fox program JUSTICE

JUSTICE (Fox). This is a slick, entertaining, sharply acted crime and court drama in which the gimmick is that in the final moments we see what actually happened and whether the person on trial is guilty or innocent. While he may not be a Sam Waterston, Victor Garber is effective as the lead defense council, and there are other good performances from the supporting cast. While the initial episode was far below the level of say, Law and Order, and the series itself is a bit on the superficial side, with some improvement in the writing and characterization this may yet emerge as a worthwhile time-passer. There has already been much improvement in subsequent episodes, such as one in which a spooky young loner was accused of crucifying his classmate tormentor. [The finale to this packed a minor punch.] If the quality keeps up and keeps getting better Fox may well have a winner with Justice. UPDATE: Alas, despite some good scripts and acting, Justice was an early casualty of the TV wars and did not last.

Gale Harold of Fox's VANISHED

TWO KIDNAP DRAMAS: Vanished (Fox) and Kidnapped (NBC). In a phenomenon that can only happen in the world of film and television, two new shows with the exact same premise premiered this fall 2006. There are some cosmetic differences, however. In Vanished, the kidnap victim is the second wife of a senator (John Allen Nelson), and the motive seems to be to force him to vote for the appointment of the man who was sleeping with his under-aged daughter. However, there are so many twists and turns in the storyline – for instance, a previous kidnap victim is found frozen-for-years, and just recently the head FBI man and lead actor was murdered, leaving room for Eddie Cibrian to take over -- that one imagines that anything can and will happen. On Kidnapped, the victim is the son of a wealthy, ruthless, and rather sinister businessman well-played by Timothy Hutton. So far the exact motive has not been revealed, although it may be more for revenge than money. Like Vanished, Kidnapped has a lot of startling and exciting plot turns. Dana Delaney is a bit uneven as the worried mother, but there are nice turns by some darn good actors playing assorted agents and other interested parties. [For instance, Delroy Lindo as a comitted FBI agent whose bodyguard son was nearly killed during the kidnapping; Jeremy Sisto as Knapp, the independent former FBI agent who tells the frightened family to put everything in his hands; and Doug Hutchison – who was very memorable as the creeply, liver-eating serial killer Eugene Tooms on The X Files -- as a sinister figure somehow involved in the plot.] Both shows are very entertaining and suspenseful – and low-rated..Let's hope their respective networks will at least let them play out until the viewer gets some kind of resolution.

The cast of NBC's KIDNAPPED

As the FBI man on Vanished, Gale Harold at first seemed more like a male model impersonating an FBI agent than the real thing.([I was unaware that he had played a totally different kind of part, a sort of blasť “femme,”on the gay soaper Queer as Folk.) But he gradually grew into the role, which is why it's too bad that he was killed off to put a better-known actor in the part [although producers claim that this was always the plan]. There's a large cast in Vanished, and most of them are highly effective. Which show is better? Some may feel that Kidnapped is a little more realistic, but I'm not so certain about that as the conspiracy plot gets more and more complicated. Who cares? Both of these shows are fun. UPDATE: Kidnapped has been canceled and can only be seen on NBC's website. Vanished seems to have disappeared as well. Too bad.

Fairchild and Derek square off in FASHION HOUSE

FASHION HOUSE. MyNetworkTV [channel 9 in New York City]. MyNetworkTV promoted this show for weeks as the “bitch fight” of the century between former “Ten” Bo Derek and sexpot Morgan Fairchild, but the latter didn't even show up for a month. The resulting cat-fight was more comical than anything else. Fairchild hates Derek, owner of the House of Gianni, because she holds her responsible for the suicide of her late husband, who married Derek after leaving Fairchild. Fairchild and her son William concoct a plot in which William would romance Derek, then leave her standing on the altar in utter mystification and humiliation, shocked that she nearly married her late husband's son. As if this weren't enough, there are bitchy models who despise each other, a wannabe dress designer whose designs are “borrowed” by Derek and whose husband is having an affair with his semi-psychotic secretary [whose dying mother is nicely played by Tippi Hedren of The Birds fame], and more melodramatic characters and situations than you can shake a stick at. Bo Derek is generally competent, but little more; at times you get the feeling English isn't her first language as her line readings come out kind of stilted. Morgan Fairchild, who has much more flair for this sort of thing, pretty much wipes up the floor with her, verbally if not physically. With the exception of Joel Berti who plays William with a panache that is half sinister and half charming, most of the actors border on the amateurish. The characters include two stereotypical if likable gay designers [both of whom are played by good professional actors] who are too easily cowered by Derek's Maria Gianni – they're like something out of 1950. [Ironically, many of the “straight” actors playing romantic roles in this soap opera are probably gay in real life.] The show is much less interesting than it sounds, bloated with boring flashbacks and some really bad acting. If you missed it don't worry about it – you didn't miss much.

Calista Flockhart of BROTHERS AND SISTERS

BROTHERS AND SISTERS (ABC). Sunday 10:00 PM. In this absorbing new series Sally Field plays the matriarch of a large, wealthy family who discovers after her husband's death that he not only had a mistress (Patricia Wettig) but embezzled from his own company and stole from the pension fund. The series deals with the repercussions from these matters, as well as with Field's love/dislike relationship with her single daughter Kitty (Calista Flockhart), who is – to Field's liberal Bush-hating horror – a conservative television personality. There is an older married sister [very well-played by Julia Walker] who is trying to hold the company together and stay out of jail, as well as three brothers: a young if appealing screw-up; a gay lawyer; and a husband who wants children but discovers that he's sterile. Then there's Field's brother Saul (Ron Rifkin) who seems to be falling for his late brother-in-law's pretty mistress. The acting is superlative and the writing is quite good – the show isn't afraid of honest sentiment or emotion – but sometimes both the conflicts and humor seem forced, the situations a bit improbable. There is a heavy reliance on coincidence as in a soap opera (Field goes to a restaurant where Saul and the mistress just happen to be on a date; the gay son's new – and rather smarmy -- boyfriend is working on the wait staff of the charity benefit he'll be attending etc.). And the show seems very self-conscious when it comes to how to handle the gay character, with its occasional cliched jokes about Broadway musicals and the like. Still, the program is entertaining and has distinct possibilities, if it can only keep the comedy from intruding and sexing and silly-ing it up a la Boston Legal (what works for that show won't work for this one).The whole business of a relationship between Flockhart and her liberal co-host seems very unlikely as well. Still, this show can successfully operate on a level of “what if?” if it continues to hold our attention. Let's wait and see on this one.

James Woods as Sebastian Stark of CBS' SHARK

SHARK (CBS). Depending largely on the oversize personality and sheer acting skill of James Woods, this is a rather good series about a ruthless win-at-any-costs lawyer [whose name is Sebastian Stark but whose nickname is Shark] who switches sides and becomes a prosecutor after he gets off a guy who promptly goes out and murders the wife he had previously battered. While the premise may be a bit dubious – do sleazy defense lawyers have that much of a conscience – and what about the huge pay cut? -- if you suspend disbelief and let Woods and his more-than-competent colleagues pull you along for the ride you'll find that this can be a very entertaining show. Shark has a college age daughter who lives with him and is apparently on board in an attempt to humanize the character, but one hopes this aspect of the show is deemphasized in favor of the mysteries, which haven't been half bad. One also hopes that Shark's sparring partner in the DA's office, Jeri Ryan of Star Trek: Voyager fame, will be given more to do. So far the only one given nearly as much screen time as Woods is a cold and efficient young blonde (Sarah Carter) who is part of his team. Carter is quite good, however.


The enthusiastic cast of BOSTON LEGAL

BOSTON LEGAL (ABC) Tuesdays 10:00 PM. This show has settled down – if that is the word – into a highly entertaining “guilty pleasure” that's worth catching every week – if you're in tune with its zany and occasionally tasteless black comedy approach. William Shatner is still on board as the politically incorrect, unapologetic, sexy seventy-year-old victim of mad cow disease, and Candace Bergen has one of her best roles as his old bedmate and current law partner Shirley. Some welcome newcomers to the show this season, who fit right into the mood of the piece, are Craig Berko as a high-priced lawyer, and Constance Zimmer as his sarcastic, borderline bitchy associate Claire Simms [Zimmer formerly appeared on a late and unlamented sitcom set on a Florida news station whose title I can't recall]. There's also a feisty lady dwarf who manages to put Shatner in his place. The story arc centering on the young man accused of murdering his paramour, a judge's wife, and who was secretly in love with his own mother (and vice versa) was fairly riveting, and the show is often very funny when it isn't being gross. The ever-spreading James Spada has become a bit ossified, talking in a weird manner like a bloated, mutant fish and in general just being strange as hell, but one supposes his transformation into a mini-Shatner is a deliberate move on his and the producers' parts. Although many viewers will be turned off by the frequent silliness and stupid moments, Boston Legal is a keeper. William Schoell.

Reviews of some new Fall 2005 programs can be found below, as well as select reviews from previous seasons. If you enjoy classic television we recommend The Color Honeymooners on American Life TV [channel 153 on Time-Warner Cable of NYC/outside NYC check with your local cable company] on various times on Saturday and Sunday evenings. These are hour-long episodes of The Jackie Gleason Show which originally aired in the 1960's and featured full-length "Honeymooners" stories with musical numbers. Some of the scripts were reworked from the "lost" black and white episodes of the show; others were new. If you're a Honeymooners fan, you'll find these shows lots of fun. NOTE: For an updated look at the spy show ALIAS click on "TV: Alias" on the navigation bar to the left.


ONCE UPON A MATTRESS. Wonderful World of Disney. ABC. Director: Kathleen Marshall. Teleplay: Janet Brownell; based on the musical. This is a delightful version of the Broadway musical starring Carol Burnett, who this time relinquishes the role of the princess to an excellent Tracy Ullman and essays the role of Queen Aggravain. Burnett falls back on some of her typical shtick at times, but otherwise is magnificent. The story, of course, is based on The Princess and the Pea. Aggravain is pathologically determined to prevent her son from marrying [it would undermine her power, for one thing] so she dreams up impossible tests for the female candidates to pass – or rather, fail. The latest hopeful is Princess Winnifred the Woebegone (Ullman) who eventually discovers that she is to prove her “sensitivity” as she sleeps by feeling a pea that has been placed beneath twenty mattresses. Complaints that the leads are too old miss the point that this situation has been going on for years and years and the prince is approaching middle-age, which makes the song during which his father the King explains the facts of life to him even funnier! [Besides, the prince is called Dauntless the Drab, not Harry the Hunk! In any case, it's the secondary love story of Lady Larkin and Harry that features a young, more traditionally attractive couple.] Ullman may lack that certain endearing “homeliness” of Burnett and Sarah Jessica Parker, but she manages to make a very effective and amusing Winnifred. Denis O'Hare is splendid as the dorky but appealing prince, and Edward Libbert as funny as ever as the Wizard. Zooey Deschanel and Matthew Morrison make a convincing Larkin and Harry. As the mostly mute King Tommy Smothers has little to say but he gets his character across admirably nevertheless. The songs – lyrics by Marshall Louis Barer and music by Mary Rodgers – are tuneful and pleasant and occasionally memorable. Rodgers' melodies are easy on the ears, and sometimes better, although none have that magical specialness of her famous father, Richard Rodgers', work. That said, Happily Ever After is a swell, jazzy number; Shy is a lot of fun; In a Little While is sweet; and Sensitivity is a riot. On the other hand, I could do without I'm in Love with a Girl Named Fred. All of the songs are well-sung and well-orchestrated, with no attempt to turn them into generic pop tunes as often occurs. TV versions of Gypsy and South Pacific may not have been very good, but Once Upon a Mattress is a very happy surprise. Oddly, the DVD for this program was released only two days after it premiered on television. William Schoell.

Ellen Degeneres

TICKLED PINK. A TV Land Original. Certainly an interesting program could have been made looking at the treatment of gay characters on TV shows, gay cult favorites, and the like, but this virtually worthless program ignores the diversity of the gay community and focuses almost exclusively on the “camp” element, featuring gay “experts” -- comics and the occasional writer or producer – who seem [forgive me] mostly like a collection of stereotypical “nelly queens” from Central Casting. Let's just say that girlish Carson from Queer Eye for the Straight Guy is not only not a sociological, television or even gay expert but is hardly representative of the entire Gay Community. During this very long hour we learn such startling and profound revelations that [some] gays were addicted to programs like Dynasty and the show hardly ever rises above that superficial level. Sure, you don't expect some serious or deep examination from a network like TV Land, which mostly recycles old TV shows, but even they should have done better than this. One of the executive producers was – incredibly -- Linda Ellerbee, who should be ashamed of being associated with something that features “reporting” as lousy as this. What a sad comedown. T. Barnes.


COMMANDER-IN-CHIEF. ABC TUES. 9 PM. The only new show to wind up in the ratings' top ten, Commander-in-Chief is a worthy addition to ABC's line-up. Geena Davis stars as the first woman president, who got the job when the president died – she was his veep -- and she refused to follow his dying wishes: that she resign! Apparently Davis, an independent, was put on the ticket to make the rock-bound conservative presidential candidate seem less of a dinosaur, but he had no intention of allowing her to go too far in politics. Well, Davis has her own mind, and is now running the country, with her husband (Kyle Secor) as the First Gentleman. Davis has three children: a college-age boy; a high school-age girl who isn't thrilled with her mother's new job; and a little girl who is a bit disheartened to learn she sometimes has to see Mommy by appointment. Hopefully the show will not focus too much on these offspring, as there's plenty of drama in the offing as far as the adults are concerned, among them Donald Sutherland as a lizard-like, untrustworthy Speaker of the House. Mary Page Keller appears now and then as the president's widow; her interesting line delivery makes us wonder if she's being sincere or sarcastic. It will be highly entertaining to see exactly who Davis can and can not trust in the weeks ahead. One excellent episode had Davis sparring with an aide over whether or not a terrorist who knew details of school bombings should be tortured. The aide said: “principals mean little when we're the only ones playing by the rules.” To which Davis replied that if the U.S. started torturing people then they could hardly take the moral high ground and expect other countries not to. There are no easy answers, of course, and with any luck this excellent show – very well-acted by the entire, well-chosen ensemble – will stay just as thought-provoking for many months to come. William Schoell


THE NIGHT STALKER. ABC THURSDAY 9 PM. This is a new version of the old Carl Kolchak Night Stalker series with Darren McGavin. Stuart Townsend plays a new, younger Kolchak whose wife was killed under mysterious circumstances. This has led him to have a much more open mind when it comes to supernatural and esoteric matters. He's just relocated and joined the staff of a new paper run by Vincenzo (Cotter Smith), and steps on a few toes when he invades the beat of crime reporter Gerri Reed (Gabrielle Union). In subsequent episodes the two seem to have teamed up, aided by Jimmy Olsen- type Jain McManus (Eric Jungmann). The first episode dealt with a large mutated coyote snatching people away and bringing them to his lair [there was no explanation for this aberration]. Then we had a story where a Charlie Manson-type used mind control to force his enemies to murder their loved ones. Another episode dealt with an initiation rite in a haunted house that causes a boy who died from fright to kill the interlopers by making them imagine their greatest fears. The Night Stalker isn't awful – and it may improve – but although the leads are professional they have little chemistry together. The stories are derivative and the whole show lacks atmosphere and that certain “sense of wonder;” even Supernatural is better [see below]. Night Stalker aspires to be another X Files but doesn't come close. In the old series, if memory serves me, Kolchak's boss was always telling him he was crazy with his theories even though in each episode he was proven right. That seems to be the formula on this show, too, with Cotter Smith given the thankless role of admonishing Townsend each week. Whereas McGavin was manic, Townsend is comparatively laid back. Verdict: This probably won't last. UPDATE: It didn't. ABC canceled the show right in the middle of a pretty decent two part episode; the viewers never saw how it ended! Nice, huh! And the show was beginning to improve, too. NOTE: Sci Fi Channel has bought the show and will present all of the episodes, including the two-parter. William Schoell

the cast of INVASION have a conference

INVASION. ABC Wednesdays 10 PMDuring a massive hurricane in Florida lives are lost and altered from both natural and unnatural causes. It seems that under cover of the storm some kind of alien lifeform has come to earth and is, presumably, going to slowly take over the world by taking over the residents, a la Invasion of the Body Snatchers -- or something like that. The program tells its story by focusing on two families. There's Russell (Eddie Cibrian), who is now involved with a reporter named Lisa (Larkin Groves) while his ex-wife, Dr. Mariel Underlay (Kari Matchett) is married to Sheriff Tom (William Fichtner); their kids bounce back and forth between the two couples. This is all well and good – well-acted, too -- I'm all for three-dimensional characterization and for subtle build-up, but Invasion may be too deliberately-paced for its own good. A couple of spooky things have happened, and there's an undeniable atmosphere to the whole thing, but... Perhaps the producers figure everyone will wait for something to happen like they did on the show's popular lead-in Lost [which I stopped watching early on]. We've learned that the good doctor Mariel can apparently breath underwater, but we're going to have to see a whole lot more for this thing to really start cooking. Maybe it's because the other new alien invasion show, Threshold on CBS, is so much better, more exciting and entertaining, that this seems rather slow and dull in comparison. UPDATE: Okay, when it became fairly clear that some of the people on the show were slowly turning into -- well -- fish, that's when I thought I might stop watching. But it is, at least, getting creepier. It looks as if interesting things might start to develop; then again ... Let's just wait and see. But not too long. William Schoell.


THRESHOLD. CBS. Friday 9PM. Now this is more like it! The premise of the show has a group of sailors at sea witness the appearance of a peculiar “UFO” that emits strange noises and lights. Most of these men are killed, but some are infected and develop a dangerous, alien-driven mindset as well as superhuman abilities [similar to The 4400 but not quite as comic bookish]. A military-scientific team is assembled to investigate this phenomenon and track down the missing sailors and anyone else they infect. They discover that the unseen aliens use a weird type of sound to infect people, and they later learn that the alien presence has actually been around for decades. In one poignant episode the team encounter a man who was locked in an institution for most of his life because it was believed he slaughtered his family, but the truth had to do with an alien artifact that was buried for centuries. In a recent episode the team narrowly blocked the infection of millions when an afflicted lady DJ sends the sinister signal to dozens of cell phones, smart cards, ATMs etc. This show is creepy, exciting and entertaining, and it seems to have limitless possibilities if it's handled with care. The actors are all good, too. Carla Gugino as Dr. Molly Caffrey seems uncertain whether she should play the part “real” or slick and sexy but either way she's effective. Brent Spiner is fine as the doctor on the team. There's also a geeky wannabe groom who's separated from his fiancee, a handsome military hunk, and a bearded “little person”who's a bit of a charming rake and whose casting may do a lot to finally humanize the “vertically challenged.” Charles S. Dutton offers a vivid performance as the head of the team, J. T. Baylock. Verdict: Recommended if it sounds like your cup of tea. UPDATE: CBS supposedly moved this entertaining show, the best of the new sci-fi series, to Tuesdays, but never ran a single episode in the time slot, canceling it before they even had a chance to see how it would do in its new day and time! Does that make any sense? Threshold had real possibilities, too, and was certainly better than Invasion and Surface, both of which have been renewed! William Schoell


SURFACE. NBC. Mondays 8 PM. Last season Lost presented what appeared to be a giant, ravenous monster in its first episode and the audience still hasn't seen the thing – whatever it is – by the beginning of the second season. Surface, a TV equivalent of a “B” monster movie, doesn't make that mistake. At the end of the second episode we get a striking shot of a gigantic maw rising from the sea to snatch up an entire boat and its occupants in its jaws. [Okay, it's a little boat, but even so.] Even in the first episode we saw these creatures from a distance. I have a feeling we'll only be catching glimpses of them for many weeks to come, but at least we're seeing something. Surface details in fairly entertaining fashion what happens when a new aquatic species is discovered in the ocean. Lake Bell plays a scientist, inexplicably cut off from the mainstream on a no-need-to-know basis [even though she was the first to encounter the creatures], who decides to trail the sea monsters on her own. There's a married man whose brother was killed by one of the beasts and claims to be getting messages from the dead man; he, too, is obsessed with these unusual animals. Then there are the two teenage boys who have found a baby monster and are letting it grow in the family pool; in the latest episode it ate a bitchy girl's poodle. There's a bearded scientist with an accent who's played by an actor who was born for direct-to-video features. And weird things are happening all across the world's oceans. Surface is cheesy fun, but let's hope they keep the camp quotient down. It's too early to tell if this will ultimately be riveting or slowly tank but so far it's been a fun ride, albeit in a minor fashion. Verdict: Seems like a good show with real possibilities for monster fans, but the jury is still out. UPDATE: The jury is still way out. The monsters make infrequent appearances, and the whole sub-plot with that stupid kid running around after the baby saurian has practically taken over the show. One supposes it's meant to remind one of E.T. or something, but doesn't the idiot boy understand that this is not an adorable puppy but a dangerous unknown animal that can kill him and others? His fascination with the creature is one thing, but his attachment to it is pathological. William Schoell

Jensen Ackles and Jared Padalecki in SUPERNATURAL

SUPERNATURAL. WB TUESDAYS 9 PM. For younger viewers [although adults with an interest in horror may get a kick out of it], this show is  sort of a supernatural Hardy Boys. There are two college-age brothers named Sam (Jared Padalecki) and Dean Winchester (Jensen Ackles) whose father has disappeared. The two young men accompanied their father around the country investigating psychic and supernatural phenomena a la The X Files, because their mother was killed in a horrible and mysterious -- apparently demonic -- fashion when they were children. Now the two follow in their father's footsteps solving odd cases because they hope that along the way they'll get some clue as to where their father has gone. In the first episode, a ghostly girl appeared in the cars of boys at night and led them to their doom. The second episode featured a disappointing flesh-eating "wendigo." The third dealt with the corpse of a drowned boy in a lake who seeks out the relatives of his tormentors. The fourth, and most interesting episode so far, focused on a ghost from an airline disaster who haunts the airplanes on which survivors are flying and causes them to crash. Sam and Dean, who was nervous about flying to begin with, must exorcise this demon before the plane goes down in forty minutes. Padalecki and Ackles are appealing and competent leads, although the latter tries to lighten his intense, brooding quality by acting a little too "cutesy" at times. The scripts also get a little too cute and superficial for their own good [although this is by no means a parody like Buffy], but despite often grim, even depressing subject matter -- murdered children, plane crashes -- the producers seem to want to keep the tone "light." This show isn't bad, and the two leads may generate some teen appeal, especially among the opposite sex, but it isn't quite good enough either. Yet, if the show keeps generating suspense over the whereabouts of the father, and comes up with clever scripts, it just may sustain enough interest to succeed. There have certainly been worse horror shows on TV: anyone remember Point Pleasant or whatever it was called? UPDATE (1/06): This program keeps getting better. The focus continues to be on the often rocky relationship yet abiding love and concern between the two brothers. Although it borrowed a lot from a movie called The Car, a recent episode about a killer truck smashing people on the highway was a well-written gem with a knock-out performance from Kathleen Noone and some genuinely creepy scenes, as well as a subtext of the horrible effects of racism. Nothing profound, but very well done. Hopefully some of the "cutsiness" and mildly comic lines will eventually get dropped.  William Schoell



Now that it's all over – and on DVD – we can look back and take a hard, cold look at Sex and the City. Was it all that good? Well, yes – and no. On one hand, I admired its frank treatment of sexual matters and its unflinching ability to look into just about every subject imaginable. On the other hand, as a native New Yorker, I never thought of Sex and the City as being truly representative of New York. (Admittedly, one shouldn't expect reality from a sitcom, even one on HBO.) Sex and the City presents a New York that exists mostly in the minds of people who don't live here (Los Angeles television writers, for instance), or who move here from out of town and merely think this is what New York is like. All full of attitude and heartlessness and people who judge you by what shoes you wear or which trendy clubs or restaurants you go to. Yes, there are people like that in Manhattan, but they are usually not Natives. We Natives can give attitude – you might say we even invented it – but it's not something we do or like to do at the drop of a quip. There are arch, brittle people all over the world; New York doesn't have a monopoly on them.

It was also hard not to see that despite its graphic updating Sex and the City adhered to the rather dated formula of “three gals seek husbands” that goes back to the silent era. It's almost as if Gloria Steinem never existed. Then again, I've often said that if I had a daughter I would tell her to get her own life and then find the man (or woman) who could fit into that life, and to a certain extent the women on Sex and the City seem to have done that. Carrie, Samantha and Miranda all have careers, for instance. But Carrie's chasing – and chasing -- after Mr. Big always seemed a bit pathetic (and why was the age difference rarely addressed?) In the final show Carrie is back with Mr. Big, but you notice she still hasn't gotten a wedding ring – and probably never will.

Another problem I've always had with the show is that these women live in the greatest, most exciting and culturally rich city in the world yet all they ever did was go to openings of restaurants and silly clubs. You never saw them at the symphony, the theater, the ballet, or a museum (probably because the writers were unfamiliar with such things). Carrie Bradshaw, in fact, was so unsophisticated that she blows off a chance to go to the Metropolitan Opera (with the character played by Baryshnikov) and instead asks him to take her to Macdonald's! What an uncultured nincompoop – what a complete dork! Baryshnikov may have been self-absorbed in Paris, but if Carrie hadn't left him, he would have gotten quite bored with her in no time.

For a show that tried to be sophisticated about women, it was rather self-conscious when it came to minorities, including Blacks, Jews, and Gays. The two recurring gay characters, while likable and appealing in their own way and well-played, were both ridiculous, laughable stereotypes, another dated aspect to the program.

Occasionally the show seemed more like Melrose Place than Sex and the City with its inappropriate “heartlessness.” I'm referring in particular to the episode when the character of “Lexi” (there was also a “Lexi” on Melrose) falls eighteen stories to her death, which is played for ill-advised laughs and elicits mostly callous reactions from the other characters who make tiresome “splat” jokes (the episode -- one of the most forgettable -- is even entitled “Splat” -- ha ha). Sex and the City may have been a black comedy at times, but I don't believe these characters would react the way they did to the woman's gruesome death, which was pointless to begin with.

But there were some good moments in the series and in the final episodes. One of my favorite shows was the one wherein Miranda not only learns from Carrie's boyfriend that some guys are “just not that into” a particular woman and to accept it and move on, but Carrie herself gets dumped by this same guy with – get this – a post-it note on her computer! Cold – and very, very funny. The final episode had the touching business of Miranda giving a sponge bath to her difficult mother-in-law (well-played by Anne Meara) and Samantha realizing that the handsome hunk she's been squiring around is actually and genuinely in love with her. Nice moments in a series that was often good, not often great, but could be and generally was extremely entertaining, well-scripted and very well-acted by all. If you haven't seen the show, by all means rent the DVDs – or borrow them from the library – and make up your own mind. -- William Schoell

TV Guide recently focused on the wives

I confess that I gave up on ABC's Lost after the third or fourth episode. Similar to an old program entitled The New People, this is a show about survivors of a terrible plane crash trapped on a weird island and coming into conflict with the elements and each other. A strange, apparently giant-sized creature of some sort has grabbed the injured pilot out of the window of the plane and deposited his dead body on top of a tall tree. This unknown creature makes its presence felt now and then but Lost is not a horror show, nor much of anything else, despite the acclaim it has garnered. I have a problem with plots that exploit horrendous occurrences such as an airline disaster and then deal in the most perfunctory way with the psychological effects of surviving such an event. The episodes I saw don't even deal with any survivors who may have lost loved ones in the crash. There were a couple of true, sensitive scenes – a woman expressively feels guilt taking boots that she needs to go into the jungle off the feet of a dead man – but many others that were phony and sitcom-ish. I've no doubt that the stories will eventually come to grips with some of these matters, but who wants to wait around until they do?

I didn't expect much from Boston Legal, another ABC show and a spin-off from the defunct Practice, but it has turned out to be quite entertaining, generally well-written, and well-acted. It's a show that can rarely be taken seriously, however; although some of the situations are “dramatic,” the emphasis is on humor and black comedy. William Shatner is amusing and on-target as Denny Crane, who seems constantly on the verge of imploding but always manages to come through at the last minute, amazing his perplexed and often irate colleagues. James Spader is equally good as the smug, multi-leveled, rather fascinating Alan Shore. Newcomer Monica Potter has apparently stepped in for Rebecca De Mornay who either played the same character or a similar one in the final days of The Practice, and she's fine. The other actors all do a good job but the stand-out is the always excellent Rene Auberjonois as a partner and dutch uncle who oversees the others and keeps Shatner on his toes. Auberjonois receives as much screen time as Shatner but is only listed in the credits under “with...” Considering the value of his contribution, why isn't this fine, veteran actor one of the bona fide stars of the show? Let's hope creator David E. Kelley rectifies this situation in the near future. Update [10/6/05]: He has. Auberjonois now appears in the opening credits with the other stars. But so far this season he hasn't had much to do on the show itself. Let's hope that changes soon.

The highly entertaining Desperate Housewives, also on ABC, is not quite as great as some critics would have you believe, but it is a good show with interesting scripts and some very good acting. Since it's another comedy-drama or black comedy, I suppose people who normally hate soap operas can tell themselves that they've watching a spoof and in some ways they're right – although there's no getting around that Desperate Housewives is a somewhat quirky but otherwise traditional soap opera. The basic premise has four suburban women – married and divorced – wondering why the fifth woman in their group (who narrates and comments upon the proceedings from beyond the grave) committed suicide at the opening of the first episode. The makers of the show create suspense by wisely withholding information from the viewer (this same approach backfires on Lost, however, which is simply not a lot of fun and not deep enough to make up for it), and the generally comical antics of the wives have enough twists and turns to keep the show absorbing. Now and then Desperate Housewives makes a wrong turn, and one might wonder if the suicide of a mother and the reaction of her depressed teenage son are really the stuff of comedy, but this is just a framework upon which to build some hopefully surprising developments in the future. It may also be besides the point to wonder if the women, particularly the divorcee played by Teri Hatcher, spend too much time obsessing over and pursuing the opposite sex. A show called Desperate Housewives is obviously not about Modern-Day Woman pursuing all the options available to her in the 21st century.

-- William Schoell

NOTE: For more about daytime soaps such as the Young and the Restless, The Bold and the Beautiful, and Days of Our Lives, click on SOAPS on the navigation bar.

Late in the game (11/27/04), 48 Hours Investigates  (CBS) did an “all-new” program on the Black Dahlia Murder and Steve Hodel's book, Black Dahlia Avenger, in which he claims his father, a once prominent physician, murdered Elizabeth Short and many other women. After the book was published, many experts on the Black Dahlia affair claimed that the photos that Hodel says his father kept in a locket were not of the Black Dahlia at all but of some other unidentified woman. In the final moments of the program, which comes off largely as a puff publicity piece for Hodel's book, 48HI finally adds some balance by giving us the results of its own investigations: A celebrated handwriting expert says that he can not conclusively link Hodel's father's handwriting with that on a letter supposedly written by the Black Dahlia killer. Another expert says that she is 85% certain that the woman in Hodel's photos is not Elizabeth Short. Hodel tells Erin Moriarity that none of this makes any difference to him, his father (whom he says he loves) is the Black Dahlia Killer. Maybe if he admitted he might have made a mistake he'd have to pay back the advance? 48HI also interviews the kid sister who claimed she was molested by Hodel Senior when she was a child, but the program never calls her credibility into question. In Hodel's book, he tells the reader that years after she made her accusations his sister let the father who supposedly molested her spend the day alone with her own young daughter, either making her a liar or what has to be the very worst mother on the planet! [This reviewer even emailed Hodel on this matter some time ago but – no surprise -- he never replied.] A geeky DA who listened to some tapes declares that Hodel Senior treated women terribly and went through them like they were Kleenex. So did Frank Sinatra and other members of the Rat Pack, but that doesn't make any of them serial killers. Until we have much, much more conclusive evidence, Black Dahlia Avenger will have to be lumped with Patricia Cornwall's fairly wretched Jack the Ripper tome as books that present a theory about these terrible murders and nothing more.

For Steve Hodel's reaction, and his explanation for some of the issues raised in the above review, please go to the mailbag page. You can also check out Hodel's website blackdahliaavenger.com for further information.

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Entire contents copyrighted 2004 - 2005 by William Schoell and Lawrence J. Quirk, except for items written by other authors, in which case said authors retain the copyright of their work . Opinions expressed by individual authors and reviewers are not necessarily the opinions of High and Low NY.