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Showtime's 'Chris Isaak' response to HBO's 'Sex and the City'

Sunday, March 11, 2001

By Rob Owen, Post-Gazette TV Editor

Poor Showtime.

The premium cable network has fewer subscribers than HBO, and its shows just don't garner the buzz of HBO stalwarts. Whether it's "The Larry Sanders Show" of yesteryear or "The Sopranos" of today, HBO's original series get more attention.

Showtime's "Beggars and Choosers" was worthy of buzz, but didn't get much. "Soul Food" has done a little better, and "Queer as Folk" certainly got attention when it premiered. But so far nothing has hit it big on Showtime with a broad-based, mainstream audience.

The network will try once again this week with the premiere of "The Chris Isaak Show," Showtime's male response to HBO's "Sex and the City." Call it "Sex and the Rock Star."

Isaak plays a version of himself, and the series focuses on what happens when he's not on stage performing (although fans of his music will find sufficient performance interludes). It's intended as a comedic behind-the-scenes take on rock star life, complete with members of Isaak's real band, Silvertone, playing themselves.


"The Chris Isaak Show"

When: 10 p.m. tomorrow on Showtime.

Starring: Chris Isaak, Kristin Dattilo, Jed Rees


Actors play other characters, including band manager Yola (Kristin Dattilo) and immature keyboardist Anson (Jed Rees). What they all have in common is sex. It's this occasionally funny show's singular theme.

Tomorrow's premiere begins with Isaak in bed with a woman who spits in his face during intercourse.

"I thought you'd like it," she says. "You said, 'Go wild and be free.'"

Isaak tries to explain spitting isn't what he had in mind, but the woman is in a huff ("I can't believe you'd treat me like this!" she says) and storms out.

Isaak leaves for a video shoot where he becomes obsessed with a production accountant who resembles the spitter. She acts cold toward Isaak but confounds him by repeatedly doing a strip tease in front of her window, which is directly across from the window in his room.

The episode also features actress Bai Ling as what one hopes is a far more neurotic version of herself. She co-stars with Isaak in the music video he's making and threatens to unleash a torrent of tears when the video's youthful director offers constructive criticism of her performance.

The same episode finds doofus Anson wooing a horsewoman with a picnic lunch.

"You like the horseradish?" he asks. "I thought you would, horses and all."

Though some of Isaak's predicaments are funny in a recognizable way (in the second episode he falls in and out of love with a policewoman based on his fantasy about romancing her while she's in uniform), Anson's character provides the comic engine that drives the series.

Next week, Anson is starstruck when he gets sentenced to a road work crew for failure to pay parking tickets. There he meets "Bret Michaels from Poison" (and that's how he always refers to him) and proceeds to fawn all over him.

Showtime describes "The Chris Isaak Show" as a series about "the rock star next door," and the show does emphasize the quirks of life, particularly a star's life. In that way, it's got a bit of the feel of HBO's "Curb Your Enthusiasm," which also mingles fiction and reality with guest stars playing themselves.

In tomorrow's premiere, Isaak talks on the phone to his real-life mother, a psychologist who appears briefly as herself. An upcoming episode finds him watching Minnie Driver's dog while she's out of town. The dog proceeds to maul a neighbor girl's rabbit, and Isaak covers for the dog.

But any and all absurdity takes a back seat to sex, the show's primary preoccupation. It's generally not as smutty as "Sex and the City," although tonight Anson freaks out when he learns about the anatomy of his horsewoman's stallion.

Each episode also features a naked woman who pretends to swim on a rotating circular mattress and serves as Isaak's sounding board. She works as a mermaid at Bimbo's 365 Club, a real-life San Francisco joint where an elaborate system of mirrors makes it appear as if a mermaid is swimming in an aquarium behind the bar.

"The Chris Isaak Show" is an offbeat series that takes some time to warm up to. There's no doubt in my mind it will become a cult favorite, but once again a true hit eludes Showtime.

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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