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'Pasadena' is a soapy drama; 'Thieves' goes 'Moonlighting'

Friday, September 28, 2001

By Rob Owen Post-Gazette TV Editor

Prime-time soaps died after "Melrose Place." It's no surprise. Serialized medical and legal dramas just took their place.

But there's room for the sprawling story of wealthy families in turmoil and Fox's "Pasadena" (9 tonight) is a welcome addition to the genre. Its chances of success in a Friday night time slot seem slim, but this cracked and bleak family drama will leave some viewers, myself included, hungry for more.

Dana Delany, the shining star of "China Beach" in the late '80s, returns to series television as Catherine Greeley McAllister, heiress to a wealthy family that resides in this old money Los Angeles suburb. But it's Catherine's teen daughter, Lily, who narrates tonight's introduction (future episodes will have no narration) written by series creator Mike White ("Chuck & Buck," "Freaks and Geeks"). Lily hints at what's to come: scandals, murder, a trial.

It all begins when a man breaks into the McAllister manse, brandishing a locket containing the picture of an unknown girl and demanding Lily tell him "What happened to her?" before he shoots himself.

This jolts Lily from her cushy existence. After taking umbrage at the slings and arrows of a poor scholarship kid at her ritzy prep school, Lily begins to investigate her family history. There's much to discover for Lily and viewers.

Chilly and distant Catherine craves the approval of her disapproving mother (Barbara Babcock, playing haughty superiority to the hilt) and puts up with the affairs of her husband, Will (Martin Donovan), who's seen by Catherine's cantankerous father (Philip Baker Hall) as the man to carry the McAllister family into the future.

Unlike last season's "Titans," which was all gloss and thought itself to be tongue-in-cheek fun, "Pasadena" takes itself seriously. The McAllister family's existence comes across as incredibly fragile, especially Catherine, a seeming doormat who throws a fit in the premiere's most disturbing scene.

Producers promise Catherine will be revealed as more conniving in future episodes and stories will become more twisted. That's a promising direction for "Pasadena," as long as it doesn't dissolve into self-parody.


(8:30 tonight, CBS)

The lead character in this unfortunate new sitcom is a jerk, an immature dork of a divorced dad who embarrasses his children, himself and anyone watching.

Daniel Stern stars as this horrid character, the director of a recreation center who advises his alcohol-shy 15-year-old son (Jon Foster) to carry an open beer around at a party. Naturally, the kid gets drunk, his mother (Joely Fisher) has a fit and Danny sputters excuses.

That's a plot from next week's episode. A final version of tonight's premiere wasn't available. In the original version, Danny and his wife were separated. Network executives decided to make them divorced because they rightly realized Danny looked like an even bigger jerk when his children longed for their parents to get back together as he made eyes for a ballet instructor (Mia Korf).

Irritating and irredeemable, "Danny" is a first-class dud.


(9 tonight, ABC)

If this new ABC caper seems like a "Moonlighting" rerun, well, it pretty much is.

John Stamos and Australian actress Melissa George banter back and forth in that "I hate you, now kiss me!" style that made Bruce Willis and Cybill Shepherd a weekly habit. And they do a good job of it, too.

Stamos, especially, surprises as he cracks wise as the more docile of two burglars who attempt to scam one another before getting arrested. Justice Department officials give the squabbling pair an option: "Serve your time in jail or serve your country."

They choose the latter, and continue to look at one another with smoldering gazes. Johnny doesn't like guns, Rita's gung-ho for a fight but won't sleep with Johnny. They're cute, but the show is simply too derivative.

If "Moon Over Miami" didn't work on ABC in 1993 and "Mr. and Mrs. Smith" flopped on CBS in 1996, yet another "Moonlighting" clone is unlikely to survive no matter how winning the leads are.

'That's Life'

(9 tonight, CBS)

CBS's genial family drama about a Mafia-free Italian-American New Jersey family returns by the skin of its teeth for a second season.

Low-rated throughout its initial run, the show is back with thirtysomething Lydia (Heather Paige Kent) getting serious about her career with the help of a doctor (new cast member Titus Welliver) at her college's sports medicine clinic.

Paulie (Kevin Dillon) and Plum (Danielle Harris) want to marry, but suddenly feminist Dolly (Ellen Burstyn) objects. Jackie (Debi Mazar) discovers she's pregnant with the child of Prof. Leski (Peter Firth).

It's inoffensive (and uninvolving) but fans of gentler dramas will cheer the return of "That's Life," which includes a new theme song performed by Kent. But they'll likely be disappointed by a cruel and needless plot twist that ends the episode.

Perhaps a bigger mistake was hiring Welliver, a jinx whose presence doomed three previous CBS shows: "Brooklyn South," "Falcone" and "Big Apple." He's not a bad actor, just bad luck. Will he add "That's Life" to his graveyard bio? The ratings will tell.

'Once & Again'

(10 tonight, ABC)

The honeymoon is definitely over.

Lily (Sela Ward) and Rick (Billy Campbell) have merged their two families under one roof, but domestic bliss eludes them in the angsty show's third season premiere. When Zoe (Meredith Deane) and Jessie (Evan Rachel Wood) aren't arguing over sharing a room, Eli (Shane West) is getting busted by the cops for pot possession.

The squabbles hit a fever pitch when Rick's ex-wife Karen (Susanna Thompson) and Lily fight over whether Eli should get a job that's respectable (Karen's view) or reflects his passion (Lily's view).

Written by series creators Marshall Herskovitz and Edward Zwick, it's not the finest hour of "Once & Again," but it's an astonishingly believable depiction of the problems inherent in blended families.

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

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