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'Ellen back with laughs; 'Crossing Jordan' predictable

Monday, September 24, 2001

By Rob Owen, Post-Gazette TV Editor

The fall television season begins its delayed rollout this week, barring breaking news coverage, but it really seems much ado about nothing. Nothing compared to the loss of life and the loss of innocence inflicted upon America two weeks ago.

Yet returning to the normalcy of the broadcast schedule, even though it feels trivial, is also comforting. Usually a time of excitement among fans of TV, this year's premieres, even of returning favorites, take on a more muted tone. But here the new season is, ready to distract us. But it won't make us forget.

'The Ellen Show'

Yep, she's back. Three years after the cancellation of her landmark ABC series "Ellen," Ellen DeGeneres returns in a new sitcom. She's playing an Ellen again, but this time one who's been out of the closet for years to the shock of no one in her homophobe-free hometown, mythical Clark, USA.

 
 
"The Ellen Show"

When: 9:30 tonight on CBS.

Starring: Ellen DeGeneres, Cloris Leachman

   
 

Ellen's back in Clark to receive a hometown-girl-makes-good award when she learns the dot.com she works for went belly up in her absence. Her return home also comes on the heels of an end to Ellen's latest relationship.

"I liked her so," says Ellen's mother, Dot (Cloris Leachman). "She had such nice teeth."

In addition to her mother, Ellen spends time with her younger, daffy sister Catherine (Emily Rutherfurd), who has her own dating woes. Her last beau stole money from the family, and her latest guy runs a cotton candy machine.

"You always see the glass half empty," Catherine complains when Ellen expresses concern.

"There is no glass," Ellen replies. "You're drinking directly from the hose."

"The Ellen Show" is a genial comedy series. It's not edgy, it's not the most hilarious show ever, but it is funny. DeGeneres is extremely likable, and viewers will want to see her succeed. But better scripts and a better time slot will be necessary for that to happen.

Later this week "The Ellen Show" moves to its regular time slot, suicidally scheduled for 8 p.m. Friday (adult comedies rarely work on Friday night), with an episode that sets up Ellen's new career direction. She'll become a school guidance counselor.

'Crossing Jordan'

Jill Hennessy has a natural pout that earned her plenty of fans during her years on "Law & Order," but her sexy sneer may not be enough to win over viewers who tune to "Crossing Jordan."

Hennessy stars as Jordan Cavanaugh, a Boston-bred medical examiner living in California (and undergoing anger management training) who beats it back to her New England hometown faster than you can say "Providence."

 
 
"Crossing Jordan"

When: 10 tonight on NBC.

Starring: Jill Hennessy, Miguel Ferrer

   
 

She returns to a previous job in Beantown where she lovingly spars with her unstable boss (an unhinged Miguel Ferrer, in the show's best performance). At home, she reunites with her father (Ken Howard), whose Bah-stahn accent is a character itself.

Not content to merely determine how people die, Jordan goes into full "Quincy" sleuthing mode. This involves the creepy prospect of playing a game with her father -- as he downs various forms of alcohol -- in which one of them plays the killer and the other is the victim. Somehow by imagining it, they're able to solve the crime.

Odd trivia: Ravi Kapoor stars in "Crossing Jordan" as "Bug," one of Jordan's co-workers. He was last seen as a doc on another Boston-set series, last season's "Gideon's Crossing."

In next week's episode, the supporting characters begin to develop, but already a pattern is emerging. Each week, Jordan angers her bosses by playing detective against orders, visits her dad to play mind games and solves the case, but her bosses remain annoyed.

Although I'm wise enough not to cross Jordan, I don't really want to watch more of this formula-driven show.


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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