New crop of TV shows: dumbest, bravest and most depressingTony Atherton, The Ottawa Citizen
This is the time of year when TV critics survey the field of new programs and pick the best and worst. The problem with such assessments is that they overlook a whole range of superlatives that fall in between. For instance:
Choosing the show that fits this category is, appropriately, a no-brainer. Titans, the Gucci-and-Porsche soap opera which began last night on NBC, is not just the dumbest new show of the season, but a strong contender for stupidest show of all time.
Not surprisingly, Titans comes from the purple pen of Aaron Spelling, but it is so suicide-inducing awful, it makes other Spelling dreck, from The Love Boat to Dynasty, look like King Lear.
How bad is the Titans? Yasmine Bleeth is one of the better actors in this cast of lantern-jawed men and high-prowed women. She plays the sexy, conniving source of friction between Perry King, as the fabulously wealthy airplane builder, Richard, and Casper Van Dien, as his son, Chandler (natch), the Ken-doll Navy pilot with a chauffeur-driven Hummer. The former is marrying Yasmine, the latter (an actor who can't even articulate let alone emote) had a fling with her during R&R in Hawaii. Tch-tch.
Rounding out this dysfunctional family unit (isn't it nice to know that designer clothes and plastic surgery can't buy happiness?), is Chandler's inadequate and jealous brother (John Barrowman), and his sisters, the alcoholic tramp (Elizabeth Bogush), and the uptight ice queen (Josie Davis).
As if all this wasn't enough to make a trash-TV fan squeeze himself in delight, Titans also has Pam Ewing. Victoria Principal, who had the good taste to eschew any Dallas reunions, now stoops to this. I guess her cosmetics infomercials aren't doing to so well.
There are a couple of shows up for this title, both for much the same reason.
That's Life, which airs Saturdays at 8 p.m. on CBS and Global, and Ed, which begins Friday at 9 on ONtv and Sunday at 8 on NBC, are clever, quirky, well-acted romantic comedies, with an understated approach to story-telling that make them seem more like movies than TV shows.
They are, in the dismissive parlance of marketing, chick flicks, and in a medium that most aggressively targets young, over-sexed, beer-swilling men, and has diminishing patience with shows that aren't instant hits, the very fact that these programs were picked up is something of a miracle.
That's Life which stars Heather Paige Kent as, Lydia, a 32-year-old New Jersey bartender who enrols in college after breaking up with her neanderthal boyfriend, is perhaps a little less risky of the pair. It is bolstered by an all-star cast including Ellen Burstyn as Lydia's disapproving mother, and Paul Sorvino as her self-absorbed father.
Ed, on the other hand, features a cast of no names, who have to rely solely on their abundant talent and chemistry.
Tom Kavanaugh plays Ed Stevens, the washed out lawyer who, after losing his wife, returns to his hometown to pursue a high-school crush who never knew he existed.
Ed is winsome and charming, and almost irresistible to Carol (Julie Bowen), a high-school teacher now in a relationship with a brooding writer.
On the faintest encouragement from Carol, Ed buys the local bowling alley and puts down roots, only to find that the path to true love -- and a successful bowling alley/law practice -- is overgrown with brambles.
The survival of either one of these shows would be enough to renew my faith in U.S. television.
Here's a category that didn't even exist before The X-Files started a trend toward shows that second-guess the American Dream.
U.S. television used to be a blinkered validation of capitalism and apple pie, a place of white picket fences, idealistic senators, funny but patriotic Marines, and fathers who knew best.
But since the fall of communism, it's been OK to assume that the universe isn't unfolding quite as it should, and even to doubt the powers that be. After all, officialdom might be part of some alien conspiracy, like on The X-Files, or willfully blind to apocryphal forces, like on Millennium.
Paranoid dramas switch into high gear this season, with shows such as The District (Saturday at 10 p.m. and ONtv), starring Craig T. Nelson as a one-man (white) crusader against the crooked and lazy (black) police force of Washington, D.C., and Freedom (Oct. 30, Global at 10 p.m.), about resistance fighters in a depressed future America that has effectively been taken over by a military junta.
However, the most depressing show of the bunch is Dark Angel (Tuesdays at 9 p.m. on Fox and ONtv), also set in a bleak near future, where a surly bicycle courier (Jessica Alba) who moonlights as a cat thief is the closest thing to a positive role model that civilization has to offer.
When she isn't looking out for herself, she fights a repressive government and various marauding terrorists, armed with superior strength and intellect bred into her during a secret government project years before.
Here's the real depressing part: the diminutive, top-heavy, pouty-lipped Alba is television's idea of advanced breeding .