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Disorder in the court

Friday, February 26, 1999

By Rob Owen, Post-Gazette TV Editor

If you're a fan of political intrigue - both the kind that goes on in statehouses and everyday office settings - this weekend's TV offerings showcase backstabbing and conspiracies aplenty.

After last week's conference room brawl between Ellenor (Camryn Manheim) and Lindsay (Kelli Williams) it's hard to imagine "The Practice" could get more outrageous. Sunday it does.

Actress Holland Taylor returns as the judge who's had erotic dreams about defense attorney Bobby Donnell (Dylan McDermott). What a shock, she's being sued for sexual harassment by a former clerk who was once her lover.

    Television Reviews:

'The Practice'
When: Sunday night at 10 on ABC.

'Crossing the Floor'
When: Tomorrow night at 10 on BBC.


Although I don't think lawyers usually consider depositions "sexy," the one involving Holland's Judge Roberta Kittleson gets pretty graphic. In the tape provided to critics by ABC, she even uses a crude colloquialism for oral sex that I don't ever recall hearing in prime time on broadcast network television. (ABC couldn't confirm whether that word will be heard when the show airs.)

"I'm sorry to be so blunt," Kittleson says after uttering the expression of questionable taste. "But I think we all know what can happen if you don't come clean at a deposition."

Kittleson may be 56, but she knows how to pique a guy's interest. Even Jimmy (Michael Badalucco) is smitten.

"I could give you an erection from across the room," she purrs to her former lover-turned-plaintiff.

For longtime followers of "The Practice," the show's A-story is more intriguing, though less titillating. Ellenor's drug addict client Leonard Sowers (Clay Wilcox) runs into the firm's office chased by police and tosses a bag of drugs on her desk. She can't say Leonard threw the drugs at her, because he's her client. Both Ellenor and Leonard get arrested.

To top it off, new evidence is found that reopens the case against George Vogelman (Michael Monks), the doctor accused of cutting off a woman's head and putting it in his medical bag.

Although this episode's conclusion is a bit hasty and a little too pat, it does resolve the mounting inter- office tension between Ellenor and Lindsay - at least for this week.

BBC'S 'CROSSING': Office politics give way to national politics in the 1996 British comedy-drama "Crossing the Floor," airing tomorrow at 10 p.m. on BBC America (available to TCI digital cable customers on Channel 162 and to Dish Network and Primestar satellite customers).

Tom Wilkinson (the older businessman who did "The Full Monty") stars as British home secretary David Hanratty, a member of the Conservative party. There's a reason he has the word "rat" in his last name. He is a rat.

Scheming and manipulative, Hanratty conspires to jump ship to the Labour party. "Crossing the floor" is slang for moving to the other side of the political aisle.

When Hanratty isn't plotting his political future (he imagines a statue of himself as a future prime minister), he's either fighting with his alcoholic wife (Diana Kent) or sleeping with his press secretary/mistress (Helen Baxendale, Ross' British ex-wife on "Friends").

Wilkinson has the perfect look for the part. He's a distinguished gentleman who seems harmless. Beneath his pale, pasty, boring facade lies a barracuda who thinks only of himself.

"You are a true politician," says the Labour party's top spin doctor. "You have that rare gift of genuinely believing whatever is advantageous to your career at the time."

Written and directed by Guy Jenkin, "Crossing the Floor" lambastes both conservatives and liberals as power hungry and seeking only to control their own destiny. Anyone who saw "A Politician's Wife" a few years back on "Masterpiece Theatre" will appreciate the dark political humor here. But "Crossing the Floor" is less highbrow, a little more comedic. For instance, Hanratty continuously harasses a newspaper reporter, first zapping her with a stun gun and later pushing her into a pond.

Near the end "Crossing the Floor" threatens to give Hanratty a conscience, which would ruin the whole thing. Luckily, he remains a cockroach capable of surviving even a scandal of nuclear proportions.

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