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TV Review: Staccato style and inside jokes buzz in 'Grapevine'

Monday, February 28, 2000

By Rob Owen, Post-Gazette TV Editor

To re-create the experience of watching CBS's "Grapevine," I'll review the show with the help of multiple personalities:

Robbie: "Grapevine" moves way too fast for a CBS show.

Robert: Are you disparaging the CBS audience as a bunch of old people who can't keep up?

Robbie: Yes.

Rob: But he has good reason for concern. My parents have a hard time following what happens on "The West Wing," and that show's a brisk walk compared to "Grape-vine's" feverish sprint.

  TV Review: "Grapevine"

When: Tonight at 9:30 on CBS.

Starring: Kristy Swanson, Steven Eckholdt, George Eads


Bob: The show is set in Miami and focuses on the love lives of singles. Kristy Swanson stars as Susan, a cruise line executive. She's a babe.

Rob: Kristy Swanson starred in the terrible movie "Buffy the Vampire Slayer," which was the basis for the excellent TV series of the same name.

Robert: Is that all you can write about? You've got "Buffy" on the brain. Grow up for God's sake.

Robbie: Maybe if you watched it before dismissing it because of the goofy title you'd realize it's a good show.

Rob: We're getting off point. In tonight's "Grapevine" pilot (9:30 p.m. on KDKA) Susan realizes she's in love with David (Steven Eckholdt), a former lawyer-turned-restaurant owner.

Robert: David secretly loves Susan, but he's never admitted his feelings to her.

Bob: David has a brother named Thumper (George Eads), a consummate ladies' man who works as a TV news sportscaster.

Robert: Which is to say, he's stereotypically vapid.

Robbie: Thumper is based on series creator David Frankel's brother, Jon Frankel, a correspondent for CBS's "The Early Show." But you don't really need to know that.

Robert: Sort of like this show's many pointless asides. In one scene Susan storms out of a store after receiving an uninvited kiss. The show immediately jumps to a pimply-faced clerk, who says, "I don't want to call her a shoplifter, but she did walk out of here without paying the $6.99 for her [suntan] lotion." It's the clerk's only appearance in the show and the information he imparts is irrelevant, but amusingly self-conscious.

Robbie: Much like "Grapevine."

Bob: They're trying to do something different jumping from character to character to character, occasionally pausing to allow an actual scene to unfold where no one talks directly to the audience.

Rob's Editor: Maybe you should give this style a break, too.

"Grapevine" zips merrily along, introducing beautiful, yapping characters of no consequence as it goes. It's different, but dizzying.

There's something admirable about Frankel's attempts to break the rules, but when it's done to the extent that you get confused about who's dating whom, the rules look appealing.

The cast gets little opportunity to act since they're staring into a camera for much of the show, but they all hurl Frankel's staccato dialogue with ease.

Some people will look at "Grapevine" and dismiss it as a hyperactive rip-off of HBO's "Sex and the City," which also features a female lead with dating troubles who sometimes directly addresses viewers. But it's not.

This is actually the second version of "Grapevine." The show first aired as a CBS summer series in 1992 and established the style "Sex and the City" later co-opted.

Eckholdt starred in the original "Grapevine" as Thumper, but he was deemed too old for the new version, which is why he's now David. Jonathan Penner, who played David in the original, guest stars tonight as Brad. (Lynn Clark, Susan in the original, has a guest spot in a future episode.)

The second episode introduces a new regular character, Matt (David Sutcliffe), who was created to replace David after the third episode. Eckholdt was committed to "It's Like, You Know ..." but that show's cancellation freed him up to return to "Grapevine" for its sixth and final episode.

In addition to the casting, there are several other inside jokes. In the third episode when David leaves Miami, he says he "took that job in L.A. because, it's like, you know, warm there."

In the same episode, Matt asks if David is getting "cold feet" about his relationship with Susan. Sutcliffe starred in NBC's short-lived "Cold Feet" last fall.

"Grapevine" excels at creating trivia questions worth at least $1,000 on "Who Wants to be a Millionaire."

Too bad it's often frustrating to watch.

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