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TV Review: Subtle humor transcends character irritations of ABC's 'The Job'

Tuesday, March 13, 2001

By Rob Owen, Post-Gazette TV Editor

Let's be clear: In ABC's "The Job," Denis Leary plays a loud-mouthed jerk. He almost always plays a loud-mouthed jerk. He's easy to dislike, so it's understandable if five minutes into "The Job" viewers switch channels in disgust.

Yet, "The Job," premiering at 9:30 p.m. tomorrow, is a pretty funny show. But its humor is more subtle than the yuks viewers are accustomed to getting from prime-time comedies.

Like the late, lamented "Sports Night," "The Job" has no laugh track and is shot single-camera style. Unlike "Sports Night," Leary and "The Job" characters are not warm and fuzzy types you wish you knew in real life.

 
 
"The Job"
When: 9:30 p.m. tomorrow on ABC.

Starring: Denis Leary.

   
 

Leary stars as Mike McNeil, a self-centered, chain-smoking, profanity-spewing adulterer who spends his days as a New York City detective and his nights shuttling between his mistress and his wife and son. The guy is scum, but "The Job" is at its humorous best when McNeil spars with his partner, Terrence "Pip" Phillips (Pittsburgh native Bill Nunn).

In the premiere, Pip worries his derriere is fat and asks McNeil's opinion. McNeil, clearly uncomfortable with the subject, tries to deflect the question, but Pip gets out of the squad car, goes to the front and pulls up the back of his coat so McNeil can render judgment.

Created by Leary and Peter Tolan ("The Larry Sanders Show"), "The Job" is a comedic "NYPD Blue," complete with salty language and off-color humor. At the end of the pilot, McNeil and other members of his squad use unorthodox methods to make a perp confess. It's unexpected and funny if not altogether following proper police procedure.

That's the way "The Job" is too. It defies sitcom conventions and doesn't follow proper TV procedure for winning over the audience. It's easier to admire than enjoy.

"Dateline NBC" (10 tonight, WPXI)
With newsmagazines clogging the prime-time schedule, it's no wonder "Dateline" so often goes for the lowest common denominator, aping local news promos that scare viewers into tuning in. For that reason, I'm not a fan of the genre and rarely watch.

But an advance tape of tonight's "Dateline" caught my attention. It's an hour-long report on airline delays and the poor treatment some passengers receive.

 
 
"Dateline NBC"
When: 10 tonight on NBC.
   
 

"Dateline" gets whipped into a frenzy about delays, relying on a newfangled system that tells where planes are in flight as opposed to what airline monitors and employees tell passengers. That airlines would lie about flight delays is not news, nor is the supposition that they pad their schedules to allow for time spent sitting on the tarmac.

This "Dateline" episode makes the most impact when it considers the little things. Not too little (a complaint about gate attendants who spend too much time typing on their keyboards seems awfully petty), but the kinds of things airlines do that needlessly upset passengers.

On one plane, flight attendants turned off a film with only five minutes remaining although there were still 20 minutes left in the flight. That's the sort of thoughtless action that results in the scorn that's heaped upon the airline industry.

Lost luggage and the inconvenience it causes is another segment many viewers will relate to. "Dateline" found several cases of lost luggage, including one couple who flew from Los Angeles to Newark, but their bags went to Portugal.

The bigger issue, and one that affects all service industries today (including the media), is the lack of concern too many employees exhibit toward customers. Airline employees get indicted here, but really it's an epidemic of carelessness. Too many service employees don't understand their job isn't just to collect a paycheck, but to go out of their way serving the public to earn that paycheck. That story would truly be worth an hour on "Dateline."


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



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