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'The Practice' returns with plenty of plot twists

Saturday, September 25, 1999

By Rob Owen

Fresh off the Emmy win for best drama, ABC's "The Practice" returns at 10 p.m. tomorrow with a twisting, turning court case. But what fans of the courtroom drama really want to know is whether or not George returns. He does.

Ellenor (Camryn Manheim) has dinner with George Vogelman (Michael Monks) at his apartment. It's just the two of them, no potential eyewitnesses. Yikes!

Ellenor successfully defended George in a murder case in which he was accused of chopping off a woman's head and putting it in his medical bag. In May's season finale, Lindsay (Kelli Williams) was stabbed by someone in a nun's habit. At the end of the episode viewers saw George walking down the street dressed as a nun. His return makes for several nail-biting scenes and gallows humor.

Writer/creator David E. Kelley's not done with George yet. Tomorrow's episode leaves room for George to return in the Oct. 10 episode.

In the season premiere's primary plot, Bobby Donnell (Dylan McDermott) defends a dentist (Henry Winkler) accused of strangling a patient to death in his office. The truth about what really happened eventually comes out, along with revelations of an "ewww, gross" nature.

Like Tony Danza last season, Winkler is an unconventional casting choice. But like Danza, he makes the most of the part. No one will confuse his character with Fonzie.

In the rush of new shows on the air, it's good to know old favorites like "The Practice" remain in fine form.

"Felicity" (9 p.m. tomorrow, The WB)

Before "The Practice," your best bet for Sunday night viewing is the season opener of "Felicity."

Everyone who cares about the show and its characters spent the summer vexed by the May cliff-hanger: Did Felicity (Keri Russell) leave school with stable resident adviser Noel (Scott Foley) or squinting stud boy Ben (Scott Speedman)?

Never fear, all is revealed -- but not right away.

The first scene depicts Felicity tormenting her Dean & Deluca boss Javier (Ian Gomez) who begs, "Tell me who the hell you did go with or I will kill you!"

Viewers might have similar reactions.

"Felicity" spent its first season finding its footing, but tonight's episode "Sophomoric" proves the series is at its best when it balances angsty drama with character comedy.

Meghan (Amanda Foreman), Felicity's freshman year roommate, returns, and she's as funny and obnoxious as ever. The perfect foil for proper Felicity.

Not everyone is excited to see one another. Julie (Amy Jo Johnson) returns from summer vacation vowing to be less of a victim, but she's still angry that her ex-boyfriend (Ben) dumped her to pursue Felicity. And the guy Felicity didn't choose has some pretty harsh words for our heroine, too.

At times their behavior is juvenile, but that's believable. And producers have smartly given the characters new living arrangements that bring Elena (Tangi Miller) more into the fold.

If freshman year is a time of adjustment, sophomore year is a period for a growing level of comfort. "Felicity" is poised to come into its own.

"Touched by an Angel" (8 p.m. tomorrow, CBS)

This show will never be confused with great drama, but it gets a little more challenging with its topical sixth season premiere.

A U.S. senator (guest star Lindsay Crouse) fears for her re-election campaign when her son and former hippie husband (Joe Spano) take up the anti-slavery cause in Sudan by raising money to buy freedom for as many slaves as possible.

Monica (Roma Downey), Tess (Della Reese) and Andrew (John Dye) spend the hour trying to convince the senator to go to Sudan and make Americans aware of the atrocity.

"When you imagined the 21st century, did you imagine slavery?" Monica asks in her lilting voice.

The senator says she can't compromise, she'd lose big bucks from campaign contributors.

"Compromise isn't truth, it's reality," Monica pleads. "God is truth, he doesn't compromise."

"Touched by an Angel" is often manipulative, always predictable and answers are found too easily, but darn if it doesn't offer a warm fuzzy each week. With its new mission to explore social issues, "Touched by an Angel" also stands to become more enlightening.

"The Simpsons" (8 p.m. tomorrow, Fox)

Oh, Homer.

In the season premiere he advises Mel Gibson (giving voice to the animated version of himself) on his remake of Jimmy Stewart's "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington." Homer pans Gibson's sensitive, Oscar-worthy rough cut, prompting Gibson to re-shoot the ending, adding gun battles and stabbings in Congress and the Capitol dome exploding.

Fox's "Action" may be getting all the ink, but this episode of "The Simpsons" is a better parody of moviemaking circa 1999.

"Futurama" (8:30 p.m. tomorrow, Fox)

After a rocky start, "Futurama" improved last spring and earned its new spot between "The Simpsons" and "The X-Files." But tonight's "Titanic" parody seems musty.

It's funny enough as the Planet Express crew boards a space liner named after the doomed ocean liner, but it's not as inspired as "The Simpsons" episode that precedes it.

"Profiler" (10 tonight, NBC)

I haven't watched this show often since its premiere in 1996, but I was curious to see how they'd pull off the switch of lead characters. After tonight's season premiere and next week's part two, Sam Waters (Ally Walker) will exit, replaced by a new profiler introduced tonight: Rachel Burke (Jamie Luner).

In May's season finale, Sam was kidnapped by serial killer Jack of All Trades (Dennis Christopher) and her boss, Bailey Malone (Robert Davi), was shot. Malone survives and the hunt for Sam begins as Burke arrives on loan from the FBI Academy in Quantico, Va.

"Profiler" was always a rip-off of Thomas Harris' "Silence of the Lambs," with Sam as Clarice Starling with a sixth sense and Jack as a less empathetic Hannibal Lecter. So it comes as no surprise that Jack's denouement parallels Harris' "Hannibal," the newest Starling-Lecter story.

Although the plot isn't original, I admire the players for their willingness to see the story of Sam and Jack through to its conclusion. Too often when stars leave TV shows they don't worry about completing the tale for devoted viewers. At least "Profiler" does right by its fans.

Rob Owen can be reached at (412) 263-2582.

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