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TV Reviews: 'Sex and the City' lightweight sizzle

Friday, June 02, 2000

By Rob Owen, Post-Gazette TV Editor

When you open a bottle of soda, it fizzes a good bit, but if you leave the same bottle open long enough and re-examine it later, it can be pretty flat. That's my take on HBO's "Sex and the City," which begins its third season Sunday at 9 p.m.

This carbonated sexcom is a guilty pleasure romp, but it's at its funniest only when resorting to sex talk that even the broadcast networks won't allow. That's the show's most distinguishing characteristic, especially since the characters are little more than types: prude good girl Charlotte (Kristin Davis); Miranda (Cynthia Nixon), the cold feminist who will accept help from no man; the whorish Samantha (Kim Cattrall) and the philosophizing columnist Carrie (Sarah Jessica Parker).

"Sex and the City" seems more intent on exploring themes than in its first season (this week: men rescue women, women rescue men), but it just doesn't have the emotional resonance of early "Ally McBeal" episodes.

In the season premiere, Carrie still smarts from her breakup with Mr. Big (Chris Noth). She and her gal pals make the arduous trek to Staten Island where Carrie is to be a celebrity judge for a fireman stripping competition.

Naturally, Sam falls for a dumb-as-a-brick firefighter. Charlotte gets drunk on Staten Island Ice Teas and Carrie begins a relationship with a politician (guest star John Slattery).

The women are funny in their frank, "Seinfeld"-ian conversations about sex (Sam describes her night with a short man in next week's episode as "like having sex with a horny Smurf"), but it's as airy and filling as cotton candy.

There's room for fun, meaningless entertainment on TV, but sex talk alone won't make me tune to "Sex and the City" on a weekly basis.


(9:30 p.m. Sunday, HBO)

I've never tuned to "Arli$$" regularly either, but I've seen enough episodes to be surprised by the season premiere, which takes an unexpected detour down Serious Issue Way.

Sports agent Arliss Michaels (Robert Wuhl) tries to get his first baseball client into the Baseball Hall of Fame, only to bring to light charges of spousal abuse. Or were the charges concocted by the player's boozy second wife?

After typical "Arli$$"-style humor early on (including employees using a telescope to spy on a judge who's into S&M), the episode suddenly turns serious. It's an unexpected detour, but not necessarily unwelcome.


(8 p.m. Wednesday, CBS)

Judging by the premiere episode of "Survivor" Wednesday night, Gilligan wouldn't last a day if he was marooned with these cutthroat castaways.

Billed as "Gilligan's Island" meets "Lord of the Flies" by way of "The Real World" and TV game shows, the first episode of "Survivor" found CBS's TV guinea pigs banding together Darwin-style to oust the weakest member of their group.

Elderly musician Sonja, who also came across as the kindest contestant, got the boot. When voted out during the excessively cheesy "tribal council" meeting (complete with torches whose flames represent the lives of each contestant), Sonja was a gracious loser, smiling and offering, "Go get 'em, you guys."

The hour began with the 16 contestants divided into two "tribes" of eight, the disorganized Tagi and the more together Pagong. Sonja was part of the Tagi group, which lost a competition to see which tribe could light a series of torches quickest (Sonja had trouble keeping up).

"Survivor" is at its voyeuristic best when focusing on its contestants and at its worst when attempting to drum up suspense during the competition, which was just dull and confusing. The presence of host Jeff Probst, who pops up every now and then to make dramatic statements ("You tread in dangerous territory every time you come here," he tells contestants at the tribal council), reminds viewers just how contrived the series is.

Though I'd be unlikely to watch "Survivor" during the regular TV season, it makes for a diverting summer series, especially when focused on the contestants. So far the most interesting "characters" include two grumpy old men who insist they know what's best ("Trying to keep them all shut up is hard," grumbles Rudy, a retired Navy Seal).

Viewers got to know only a few of these people in the premiere, and in early episodes viewers will probably get a good idea who will be voted off the island based on who gets a decent amount of camera time during each hour.

Some viewers will be offended by the way contestants are made to go hungry or seek sustenance by eating fried rats. Sure, it's humiliating, but these people volunteered to be our entertainment, and it's not like CBS is really going to let them starve. The network doesn't want that public relations disaster on its hands.

Rob Owen can be reached at 412-263-2582 or rowen@post-gazette.com. Post questions or comments about TV to www.post-gazette.com/tv under PG Online Talk.

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