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TV Reviews: George becomes 'Bob'; 'Scrubs' shows heart

Tuesday, October 02, 2001

By Rob Owen, Post-Gazette TV Editor

So, what about "Bob"? As in, "Bob Patterson," the new series that stars "Seinfeld" alumnus Jason Alexander and premieres tonight at 9 on ABC. It's not as bad as the negative buzz would lead you to believe, but it's not a great show, either.

Alexander stars as Bob Patterson, America's No. 3 best-selling self-help guru. He's essentially George Costanza with social skills and occasionally a backbone.

 
 
"Bob Patterson"

When: 9 tonight on ABC

Starring: Jason Alexander, Robert Klein

   
 

In tonight's premiere, Bob has writer's block. He's been "creatively constipated" since his beautiful, much younger wife (a running theme on new ABC sitcoms) left him. Janet (Jennifer Aspen, "Party of Five") returns tonight, and Bob discovers she's his muse, the guiding force that's made him a success. She moves back into their home but stymies Bob's desire for a marital reunion when she announces she's taken a vow of celibacy.

Bob's home life gets worse next week when his obnoxious son (James Guidice) from a previous marriage is introduced. The boy's a bully who offers to get his father a hooker. Nice.

Fortunately for "Bob Patterson" and those who tune in, the two shows available for review mostly take place at Bob's office, where his mentor and partner, Landau (Robert Klein), encourages him. Less helpful is Bob's new secretary (Chandra Wilson), a newly wheelchair-bound klutz.

Much of the humor is crude. Bob refers to the "jugs" carried by the big-chested woman who delivers bottled water. Landau scratches Bob's rear end when Bob is hospitalized but does it in a way that makes it look like he's doing something else. The biggest laughs this week and next come from the appearance of John Tesh playing himself.

When early episodes of any series depend on tacky guest stars for yuks, something's clearly not working.

'Scrubs'

A comedic "ER." That's the quick pitch for "Scrubs," a single-camera sitcom that's the brightest spot on NBC's fall schedule. Heck, it's probably the best comedy pilot of the season.

A smart mix of absurd comedy and surprising pathos, "Scrubs" is the story of medical intern J.D. (Zach Braff), who begins his first day on the job to the tune of U2's "Beautiful Day." It turns out to be anything but.

 
 
"Scrubs"

When: 9:30 tonight on NBC

Starring: Zach Braff, Donald Faison

   
 

J.D. is nervous about inserting needles in patients, gets frustrated by attractive co-worker Elliott (Sarah Chalke) and finds his roommate and best bud Chris (Donald Faison) falling in with the jock-like surgical interns.

J.D. also learns the seeming good guy, always smiling Dr. Kelso (Ken Jenkins), isn't quite so good, while abrasive Dr. Cox (John C. McGinley) turns out to be not so bad.

"Worst-case scenario?" Dr. Cox says to J.D. in one of his less shining moments, "you kill somebody."

"Scrubs" occasionally goes off on brief visual tangents -- when J.D. feels like a deer in the headlights, viewers see him staring down headlights while wearing antlers -- that feel less gimmicky than they do on lesser comedies.

But most importantly, "Scrubs" has heart. Not the forced, icky sentimentality so often found in sitcoms, but earned moments that feel genuinely poignant.

"I just wanted to help people," J.D. says in a rare reflective moment in tonight's fast-moving premiere. "The hardest part is, so quickly you have to move on."

In a second episode of "Scrubs" (9:30 p.m. Thursday), J.D. is more confident, perhaps too confident as he tries to get to know Dr. Cox with hilariously unintended results.

This episode also includes a shout out to the late '70s series "Buck Rogers in the 25th Century." Any show brave enough to joke about the metal robot Twiki is A-OK in my book.

'Buffy the Vampire Slayer'

Maybe it's just easier to kill a slayer than to resurrect her, but tonight's two-hour season premiere of "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" on WNPA, Channel 19, disappoints on a number of levels.

Following May's shocking, emotionally exhausting season finale, the premiere comes off as cold and uninspired.

"Buffy" rises from the dead, but it's done in such a predictable way, there's no suspense. Even the scenes between Buffy (Sarah Michelle Gellar) and her little sister, Dawn (Michelle Trachtenberg), so moving in the season finale, lack resonance in tonight's premiere.

 
 
"Buffy the Vampire Slayer"

When: 8 tonight on UPN

Starring: Sarah Michelle Gellar

   
 

Since Buffy's death, Willow (Alyson Hannigan) the witch has been leading the Scooby Gang in their defense of Sunnydale, Calif., from demons of the night. They're aided by Buffybot, a robot likeness of Buffy commissioned by smitten vampire Spike last season.

Written by Marti Noxon and David Fury, this tale of Buffy's revival feels wrong mostly because when Dawn attempted to resurrect her mother last season it was explained that such tampering was bad. Now, because of a clause about Buffy's death by "mystical energy," it's excused.

Additionally, a scene of animal sacrifice takes "Buffy" to an uncomfortable, ritualistic place the show has heretofore avoided.

Though "Buffy" has moved to a new network, UPN, there are no signs of tampering from the show's new network honchos -- no wrestlers as guest stars, no sexier wardrobes (stay tuned next week for "Roswell" to see that UPN-influenced change). It's the same old "Buffy"; unfortunately it's a formulaic "Buffy" that slogs through the task of getting out of the corner the May season finale forced the show into.

'What About Joan'

It's fascinating to watch a series be ruined with a single episode. ABC manages to squander its winning midseason replacement tonight in the show's second-season premiere.

 
 
"What About Joan"

When: 8:30 tonight on ABC

Starring: Joan Cusack, Kyle Chandler

   
 

When we met Joan Cusack's winsome high school guidance counselor Joan Gallagher, she was wacky, but sometimes shy, and she hated talking about sex.

Now, in flashbacks, the writers of "What About Joan" have completely changed the character (including having her suddenly become a teacher) and obliterated some of the funniest moments from last season. Come to find out, little Miss Demure jumped in the sack with boyfriend Jake (Kyle Chandler) on their first date. This rewrites the show's history and cheapens the comedy.

Blah.

'According to Jim'

Evidently in the minds of ABC programmers, it's perfectly normal for an overweight balding man to be married to a beautiful, blond, much younger wife. Bob Patterson is divorced from a woman matching that description, and Jim Belushi is happily married to Courtney Thorne-Smith in "According to Jim," premiering tomorrow.

Wife Cheryl even finds it endearing when he pulls up his shirt and plays his abundant gut like a bongo drum. Yes, Belushi goes shirtless in at least two episodes of this sitcom. Thank goodness most people are done with dinner by 8:30.

 
 
"According to Jim"

When: 8:30 tomorrow on ABC

Starring: Jim Belushi, Courtney Thorne-Smith

   
 

It's the typical stupid-husband, smart-wife rigmarole we've seen before. Throw in Cheryl's chunky brother (a miscast Larry Joe Campbell) and her single sister (Kimberly Williams, who, in her post-"Father of the Bride" days, seemed to have a promising career that would amount to more than playing second banana) and there's familiar familial conflict aplenty.

When "According to Jim" isn't clinging to sitcom cliches dating back to the invention of the tube, it tries to wring laughs from a little girl mangling the name of female genitalia by having her say, "I have a bagina."

I have a headache.

Despite straining credulity, the relationship between Belushi's Jim and Thorne-Smith's Cheryl is admittedly sweet in a few moments, but it's so predictable. In a future episode, Jim falls asleep after sex. Nope, never seen that before.

"God, you're a beautiful woman," Jim says tonight.

"God, you're a lucky man," Cheryl replies.

It's the most truthful moment in the entire 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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