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Wednesday, September 22, 2004

Still More Fall TV Madness
Monday night I eschewed LAX, which I’d enjoyed last week, because CSI: Miami (CBS, Monday at 10) had the ultimate season-opener ingredient: the death of a regular character. Usually that kind of thrill is reserved for cliffhanger finales, but I guess the contractual difficulties didn’t arise until the summer break in this case. I’d seen a spoiler about who was going to buy the gator farm, but even if I hadn’t, I’m pretty sure I could’ve guessed; there wasn’t a lot of subtlety about the way they played it. “I could kill X,” said one agent early in the show about the victim-to-be. “Hey there’s lots of time for that, right?” the dead-character-walking blithely announced to a colleague as they walked into what would be the crime scene. Other than the divine doctor treating the body with even more reverence than usual (she’s by far the best CSI doctor so far—I was really scared she’d be the casualty) and Horatio biting his lip in an even more determined manner than usual (c’mon, you knew it wasn’t going to be him), the loss was rather underplayed until the tacked-on lights-blazing police funeral at the end. I’m kind of curious about CSI: New York (only kind of—Gary Sinise is not my kind of actor; he blew in The Human Stain, though his casting was pretty moronic to begin with), but not terribly excited. Miami is too much about keeping Horatio’s promises that wrongs will be righted and disturbed people will be relieved of their grief and fear. The original is still the best, even if they have been suffering from character memory loss of late.

I also watched Listen Up (NBC, Monday at 8:30), the new Jason Alexander vehicle that is based on the Tony Kornheiser’s columns. (That’s right, his columns are based on his life, but the show isn’t. Whatev.) Dreadful! There’s something tragic about TV shows (and movies for that matter) that purport to show creative people writing something funny, moving, or sad when the product they’re laughing, sighing, or crying over is third-rate at best. All I could think when we heard “Tony’s” columns was, “Dude, never mind this crisis, you’d better worry about what you’re going to do for a living when the newspaper comes to its senses and realizes you can’t write!” And it just wasn’t funny. I’ve never liked laugh tracks (when we watched a show—inevitably American—that used one, my granddad would always say, “Yanks’ll laugh at owt, eh?”), but I felt like a creature from another planet when the soundtrack was signaling major merriment and all I could manage was utter puzzlement. It’s so terrible, it’ll probably be the next Everybody Loves Raymond.

The show I was most looking forward to was Second Time Around (UPN, Monday at 9:30), a sitcom in which real-life couple Nicole Parker (I guess she lost her Ari this summer—is it suddenly passé for actors to have three names?) and Boris Kodjoe play a formerly married couple who have come back together and re-married after years apart. I’ve been a fan of Parker’s since The Incredibly True Adventure of Two Girls in Love (and I'm really disappointed that she or the production company neglected to mention that movie in her Second Time Around bio—she was the lead in a pretty successful movie, I can't think of a good reason to overlook it, just lots of bad ones), and she and Kodjoe had great chemistry in Showtime’s Soul Food, but that connection seems to have lost its sizzle on the UPN set. Perhaps it’s something about the cheap-ass ticky-tacky sets that seem like something out of those late-night Christian youth shows (you know, when the pastor is all decked out in sports-logo gear, as though he were a football coach rather than a God-botherer). Parker’s character, Ryan (no Shenaynays here—it’s Jackson and Ryan and their buddies Nigel and Paula—as the bougie gold-digging Paula tells her man, “More suburban, less urban”), is an artist, so we’re subjected to those tired hippy-chick costumes that bohemian types so often get saddled with (in life as well as in art, unfortunately). She looked a lot better in the business suits and sexy lingerie of Soul Food. The sad fact is, Showtime’s willingness (boy, were they willing) to show off the gorgeous bodies of the Soul Food cast did a lot to establish the couple’s spark—here we have to imagine it, and unfortunately, neither the script or the actors do much to help that happen.