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On the Tube: Good humor, actors give fresh spin to premise of new CBS comedy

Wednesday, February 28, 2001

By Rob Owen, Post-Gazette TV Editor

Some of My Best Friends" does not begin auspiciously. This new CBS sitcom (8 tonight, KDKA) expects viewers to believe macho Italian guy Frankie Zito (Danny Nucci) is such a naive dummy he doesn't know what GWM stands for in a classified ad. He thinks it means "Guy With Money" rather than "Gay White Male."

That makes Frankie unbelievably dim. But gradually tonight's premiere gives way to a surprising amount of humor. Much of it is built on "Three's Company"-like misunderstandings, but "Frasier's" been aping "Three's Company" for years and no one seems to mind.

Frankie responds to a "roommate wanted" ad placed by gay writer Warren Fairbanks (Jason Bateman), whose boyfriend has dumped him and moved out.

Warren and flamboyant upstairs neighbor Vern (Alec Mapa) at first think Frankie and his buddy Pino (Michael DeLuise) are a couple. Pino thinks Warren is Jewish because he has a "Yentl" poster, a "Fiddler on the Roof" CD and an autographed picture of Bette Midler in the living room.

"I like hanging out with you people," Frankie tells Warren. "You're smart, you're funny, you suck at sports, but hey!"

Warren, who catches on to the misunderstanding faster than Frankie, tests Frankie's sexuality by asking him to finish the sentence "Clang, clang, clang went the...."

"Fire truck?" Frankie responds.

"Some of My Best Friends" trades on every Italian and gay stereotype possible, but it manages to make these zingers seem fresh thanks to strong performances from Bateman and Nucci.

Yes, Bateman, the kid from "The Hogan Family" and "It's Your Move" does a credible job as this show's Will Truman: the gay guy you wouldn't guess is gay.

As Frankie, Nucci is sweetly naive. He's not homophobic so much as he is oblivious.

Pittsburgh native James Widdoes is an executive producer on "Some of My Best Friends," and he directed the pilot (another original episode will air next Monday following "Everybody Loves Raymond" before the show returns to its regular Wednesday time slot). The sitcom is based on the independent film "Kiss Me, Guido," but the title was changed (first to "Me and Frankie Z" and then the current moniker) because CBS executives feared a backlash from Italian-Americans due to the word "Guido." Regardless, the show may face rejection from other quarters.

"Will & Grace" proved a sitcom with prominent gay characters can appeal to a mass audience. But there's a significant difference between these two sitcoms: The networks each one airs on. NBC's audience profile is young, more urban and therefore more likely to accept gay characters. CBS's audience is older, more rural and would perhaps be more likely to reject this show's concept.

Or maybe not. "Some of My Best Friends" is essentially a new version of "The Odd Couple," which is pitch-perfect for CBS.

*

"Big Apple" (10 p.m. tomorrow, CBS)

If you stumble onto this New York-based cops and FBI agents drama, you might think you're catching an episode of "NYPD Blue."

Created by "NYPD Blue" writer/executive producer David Milch and Anthony Yerkovich ("Miami Vice"), "Big Apple" sounds a lot like the dialogue heard on "Blue."

"It speaks well of you, the address coming so quickly to mind," says NYPD detective Mike Mooney (Ed O'Neill), this show's version of Andy Sipowicz.

That cadence is quintessential "Blue"-speak. But it works for "Big Apple," too, a fairly smart drama series about the tensions between New York cops and the FBI in Manhattan.

Mooney and his young partner, Vincent Trout (Jeffrey Pierce), end up working with the FBI under the command of Will Preecher (David Strathairn). But Mooney butts heads with FBI agent Jimmy Flynn (Titus Welliver), who's gotten himself in too deep with a shady bar owner informant (Michael Madsen).

There's a lot going on in tomorrow's premiere episode, and not all of it makes sense right away. There's a good bit of confusion about who's doing what to whom, but by the end of the episode it's fairly clear where allegiances lie.

"Big Apple" is a dark, moody drama, which, coupled with the presence of actor Titus Welliver, makes it dead meat on CBS. Has one of these types of shows ever worked on the Tiffany network? Welliver starred in the short-lived gloomy series "Brooklyn South" and "Falcone." Other dark series that didn't survive on CBS: "EZ Streets" and "Feds."

But the network is eager to try again because of the buzz that surrounded Milch when he became a free agent after leaving "NYPD Blue" at the end of last season.

O'Neill is well-cast as the temperamental Mooney, and any memories of Al Bundy evaporate quickly. Strathairn also makes a strong impression, especially in scenes with Glynn Turman, who plays Preecher's colleague and friend, FBI agent Teddy Olsen.

Despite these positive attributes, "Big Apple" isn't unique (how many dreary cop dramas do we need?). It's OK, but not outstanding and needlessly crude at times.

Perhaps CBS will nurture the show along for a while, but one thing's certain: Tomorrow night an original "ER" will take a bite out of "Big Apple" no matter how strong its lead-in from "CSI."

You can reach Rob Owen at rowen@post-gazette.com. Post questions or comments to www.post-gazette.com/tv under TV Forum.



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