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On The Tube: New additions to TGIF mix are looking bleak

Friday, October 06, 2000

By Rob Owen, Post-Gazette TV Editor

Those who forget the past are doomed to repeat it. That goes double for television network executives.

It was only two years ago that Fox executives thought they could overhaul their Friday night lineup with a comedy block aimed at adults who weren't watching ABC's TGIF. "Living in Captivity" and "Getting Personal" bombed big time.

Now ABC is poised to do the same thing, dumping TGIF in favor of adult comedies. It's unlikely to work. The night leads off with "Two Guys and a Girl," followed by "The Trouble With Normal," a sitcom about a therapist and the paranoid people in the support group she leads.

And what's the trouble with "The Trouble With Normal"? Here are the first two lines of dialogue:

"Does anyone feel like they've taken a positive step this week towards overcoming their paranoia?" asks therapist Claire (Paget Brewster).

"I ripped my phone out of the wall 'cause I thought it was listening to me," one group member says as the laugh track roars inexplicably. It wasn't funny.

Tonight's premiere introduces the members of Claire's support group, each of whom suffers from varying degrees of paranoia. Bob (David Krumholtz) thinks his neighbor Zack (Jon Cryer) is spying on him, and -- who woulda thunk it? -- HE IS!

It just goes downhill from there. Here comes "Trouble," big, bad, ugly ratings trouble.

"The Trouble With Normal" airs at 8:30 tonight on ABC.

"Madigan Men"
(9:30 tonight, ABC)

This one coulda been a contender. There's excellent rapport between actors Gabriel Byrne and Roy Dotrice, who play father and son. Byrne also gets on well with John C. Hensley, who plays his 17-year-old son.

And the writing in tonight's pilot, from Cindy Chupack ("Sex and the City"), is frequently bright and witty.

But "Madigan Men" fails creatively for one simple reason. Its rhythms are all wrong for a sitcom filmed in front of a studio audience. This show is screaming to be a single camera comedy shot on film, similar to "Sex and the City." The humor is subtle. It doesn't warrant the guffaws of the studio audience that interrupt its natural flow.

Byrne stars as Benjamin Madigan, a Manhattan architect recently separated from his wife who ran off with the couple's nutritionist.

"I have a strong suspicion he not only stole my wife, but also sabotaged my diet," Ben says.

It's a funny line, but not gut-busting funny. It's the kind of line I can imagine a "Sex and the City" character saying almost under her breath. And there'd be no pause for the audience to finish laughing.

Dotrice plays Seamus Madigan, Ben's father, who arrives from Ireland spouting proverbs ("A good horse pulls his own cart," he says). Seamus could be an overblown Irish stereotype, but it seems like the character is, to some degree, in on the joke, so it's not overly annoying.

Regardless, "Madigan Men" is unlikely to last long.

"C.S.I.: Crime Scene Investigations"
(9 tonight, CBS)

The investigations are intriguing. The investigators are blah, their relationships a poorly defined muddle.

Always reliable Marg Helgenberger stars as Catherine Willows, a single mom with a penchant for putting together the pieces after horrible crimes occur.

"We're just a bunch of kids getting paid to work on puzzles," Willows says of her job.

The Las Vegas C.S.I. unit is overseen by Capt. Jim Brass (Paul Guilfoyle) with Gil Grissom (William Petersen) as the defacto father figure to the squad's youngest members. Tonight Nick Stokes (George Eads) works toward professional advancement while Warwick Brown (Gary Dourdan) gets himself in trouble with the boss man at every turn.

Despite some sloppily handled and uninteresting character introductions, tonight's premiere offers several absorbing cases, including one mysterious suicide that isn't solved immediately. Another includes repeated Rashomon-style flashbacks that change as the investigation unravels the truth of what happened.

"C.S.I." might be worth investigating, if the show's writers can get the characters in focus while continuing to conjure up mysterious, thought-provoking plots.

(9 tonight, Fox)

It's taken years, but I've learned to say how much I enjoy "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" without going into a long explanation of how the show isn't as airheaded as the title makes it sound. But even I would find it tough to profess admiration for a TV show called "Freakylinks."

The winner of the New Show With the Worst Title award goes to this one-hour drama from the creators of "The Blair Witch Project." Well, the "Blair Witch" guys pitched it to Fox but bailed when network executives began making changes.

Tommy Thompson ("Quantum Leap," "The Pretender") was brought in to replace them, although he liked the show's original title ("Fearsum") and dark concept. The network wanted the show lighter. Tomlinson bailed, too.

That means the rudderless "Freakylinks" now has its third captain, and that's before the series even sets sail tonight. Because of this turnover, there's no way of knowing how representative the pilot will be of the series as a whole.

Tonight's premiere goes from spooky to goofy to intriguing to incomprehensible -- in that order.

Derek Barnes (Ethan Embry) runs the Web site freakylinks.com, which he took over when his twin brother Adam committed suicide two years ago. He and his buds -- Jason Tatum (Karim Price) and Lan Williams (Lizette Carrion) -- investigate strange stuff and post it to the Web. Tonight they shoot shaky hand-held video footage of what may be a real severed head.

Then Derek gets an anonymous e-mail that includes a picture of his dead brother, Adam, alive. It also includes the word "Croatoan," a reference to an early American colony that disappeared without a trace.

Creating a show's mythology around this real-life mystery has potential, but it's squandered in a lavish special effects sequence that makes no sense. Derek teams up with Adam's ex-fiancee, Chloe (1996 CMU grad Lisa Sheridan), and together they discover a little girl who morphs into a scary-looking feral woman who resembles Grace Jones.

Not that this hoo-hah matters a whit. Fox executives are already gunning for their dark-themed shows, just looking for a reason to cancel them. With all the behind-the-scenes turmoil on "Freakylinks," they have plenty of reasons already. In short order, low ratings will ensure the freakiness of "Freakylinks" remains unexplained.

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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