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Wednesday, September 15, 2004

More Fall TV
LAX (NBC, Monday at 10): After all that un-love for NBC, last night I saw a new fall show that I actually kind of liked, and of all things, it was the new Heather Locklear/Blair Underwood vehicle, LAX. I mean, it’s not exactly David Hare (which may not be a bad thing), but it was clever and entertaining and not too silly to be annoying.

The basic plot line was established in the opening moments when the airport manager (played by Tanner 88 himself, Michael Murphy) walks out onto the tarmac and kills himself with a landing 747). Then it’s the next morning and a Tannoy announcement spreads the word and acts like a combination of the precinct briefing in Hill Street Blues and the morning announcements on Degrassi: The Next Generation. Two hip-looking young dudes get the job of catching viewers up on what a thriving place LAX is and what a killer (geddit) job the dead man had: “The guy had over 16 million passengers a year, 700,000 takeoffs and landings, 60,000 employees. He had two police forces, CIA, Customs, the FBI, TSA, immigration, over 100 different airlines.”

From there, we move into some nice camerawork introducing the two main candidates to take the dead man’s job. Harley, played by Heather Locklear, came to the office still in her evening gear, but the intro was a nice piece of subtlety—we saw her feet, eventually her body (but her head was out of the frame), then her back, then she was in soft focus (but not too soft; it was cool, trust me), then half-reflected in a bathroom mirror, then in a car mirror … and then … by this time, even I, not part of the Heather Locklear demographic, was panting to finally see her.

After a little bit of funny business with the hip dude (he’s LAX’s version of CSI’s Greg, in other words), we move on to Roger, played by Blair Underwood, her dashing, handsome, African-American rival. He’s also fetishized—first we see just his hand, then his feet, then his back, his profile, then we see him fancying himself in some reflective glass at the foot of an elevator. They’re both cute but flawed (that whole driving to work straight from a night on the town thing for her; gambling for him).

There are some other by-the-numbers characters—the dude in the Hawaiian shirt (the chief air-traffic controller); the uptight, too-sure-of-herself woman (a dog-handling Customs agent); the gullible newbie (the most unconvincing immigration official evah); the flawed but dedicated peace officer (a boozer demoted from the bomb squad), the good-looking airline supervisor (my bet for the character who’ll turn out to be gay), etc.—but the show had a nice, kinetic energy, and some great music (including “Rose Rouge,” by St. Germain, one of my very favorite songs). Best of all, even with the personal distractions (Harley and Roger have history, which does allow for some good exchanges, like, “Kiss my ass.” “Been there.”), the show’s about work and trying to get along with your colleagues while you try to get ahead—and though you’d never know it since so many shows shy away from the topic, work makes a great subject for TV drama. (After all, isn’t that one of the reasons why The Wire is so brilliant?)

Of course, there were some frankly ridiculous moments—the naïve new immigration officer seemed to be learning for the first time that there are visitors to the United States that might indulge in a little deception to get into the country (what else do you suppose there is to learn at INS school?). The biggest “as if” moment came at the end, when a huge crowd of airport employees—naturally including the cast of characters we’d come to know during the pilot episode—ended their frantically busy day by going to meet Flight 174 from Shanghai, “the orphan plane.” Then, of course, their tired frowns turned to huge smiles as the new parents brought their new babies home for the first time—the Love, Actually moment when they introduced them to friends and family. (Apparently, they didn’t have to go through immigration—just walked right into the lounge, which, as any fule no, isn’t how it works after an international flight.) Still, I have to admit that even though I knew it was dumb, I got a little moist-eyed, especially when they showed the gay and lesbian couples with their new children. I’ll definitely watch LAX again.