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Tuned In: Fox should roll out red carpet for 'The Tick'

Thursday, November 08, 2001

By Rob Owen, Post-Gazette TV Editor

Finally, a quality show to air between "Friends" and "Will & Grace." It's just not on NBC.

Tonight at 8:30, aim your remote at the TV and click over to Fox. If you like absurd humor, if you liked the tone of the film "Men in Black" or the short-lived TV series "Maximum Bob," chances are you'll get a kick out of "The Tick."

Based on the cartoon series that was based on a comic book, "The Tick" is goofy fun, a superhero satire that also revels in the details of everyday life, similar to "Seinfeld."

Tonight's premiere -- written by "Tick" creator Ben Edlund and directed by Barry Sonnenfeld ("Men in Black," "Maximum Bob") -- introduces the hulking, naive savior of The City who speaks in the stilted rhythms of comic book hero stereotypes.

"So, vending machine, we meet again," Tick says before pounding on an uncooperative dispenser. "Empty your bladder of that bitter black urine men call coffee."

Declarations are the Tick's specialty, even if they make no sense.

"When society says jump, we say pass the salt," Tick says in an upcoming episode.

As the Tick, Patrick Warburton (Puddy from "Seinfeld") is absolutely perfect casting. As big, dumb, furrow-browed Puddy, I found Warburton mostly annoying, but he's well suited to playing the Tick. He has the size to be a super hero and the facial expressions to play dim.

Tick is part of a crime fighting duo that's completed by Arthur (David Burke), a meek accountant who dons a moth costume to fight crime. Their super hero friends include the curvaceous Capt. Liberty (Liz Vassey, "Maximum Bob") and lustful Bat Manuel (Nestor Carbonell, "Suddenly Susan").

Tonight's premiere is more action-oriented than future episodes as the Tick takes on the Red Scare, a hammer and sickle-wielding Soviet-made robot that's been in mothballs since 1979.

Future episodes are more character-driven. In one, Liberty and Bat Manuel debate the difference between "lone" and "alone" as they try to justify being romantically unattached. In another episode, poor, innocent Tick learns about mortality.

"Maybe death is just nature's way of saying, 'Try again,'" Tick opines at the funeral of a fellow super hero.

It's just too bad Fox seems to have given up on "The Tick" before its premiere.

The return of "Temptation Island" merited several full-page ads in TV Guide magazine. "The Tick" only got a half-page. On Fox's media-only Web site, headlines remind reporters about the November premieres of "24," "The Bernie Mac Show" and "Temptation Island 2." "The Tick" isn't mentioned.

Don't even get me started on the killer time slot. This show appeals to a good swath of "Simpsons" fans and deserves to air Sunday following that series.

It's a shame. "The Tick" is a funny, creative show and a risk worth taking. It's disappointing Fox has so little faith in these oddball super heroes.

'X-Files' returns

Maybe they should call it "The Ex-Files," as in exhausted. Once an entertaining, well-written and creative show, "The X-Files" is now nothing more than a tired cash cow.

As it enters its ninth season Sunday night at 9, "The X-Files" is thoroughly bankrupt of ideas. It should never have come to this. The show should have ended with dignity. But there's money to be made, so it continues.

Mulder (David Duchovny) is gone. To call the explanation of his absence in the new season's first two episodes unsatisfactory is to be charitable. It's ludicrous. No matter the threat, Mulder would not run away and abandon Scully (Gillian Anderson) and her infant child, who just might be Mulder's son.

"He's gone, he's just gone," Scully tells Doggett (Robert Patrick). "It makes sense in its own way, that's all I can tell you."

Sorry, Dana, that doesn't cut it.

At least we won't have to hear Doggett talk about "Muldah" much longer. Instead we get new FBI assistant director Brad Follmer (Cary Elwes, still trying to master an American accent after all these years), a former flame of Monica Reyes (Annabeth Gish).

Former "Xena" Lucy Lawless guest stars as a fishy character who's likely to resurface in the future.

No matter. "X-Files" long ago "jumped the shark." Now it's as awful as "Beauty and the Beast" after they killed off Linda Hamilton's "Beauty."

TV miscellany

Fox Family Channel will be renamed ABC Family on Saturday. Look for the change to take effect in the Post-Gazette's grids in a few weeks ... Sci Fi Channel has canceled "The Invisible Man." The remaining original episodes will air early next year ... Despite low ratings, CBS will produce a second edition of "The Amazing Race" ... Variety reports Chris Carter is in discussions with Fox to film a second "X-Files" movie that would feature Mulder (David Duchovny) and Scully (Gillian Anderson) ... Gwyneth Paltrow will host NBC's "Saturday Night Live" this weekend with musical guest Ryan Adams ... David McCullough's "John Adams" biography has been optioned by Tom Hanks, who will likely team with HBO to turn the book into a multi-episode series similar to "Band of Brothers" and "From the Earth to the Moon."

Local sweeps

So far, so good. Or, at least, not so bad.

Though WPXI has clearly not changed its sweeps strategy in light of the September terrorist attacks (last week's report on drunken driving statistics fit the same old Channel 11 sweeps mold), none of the local stations have foisted anything hugely egregious on the viewing public.

Some of the reports have been particularly worthwhile. WTAE's Jim Parsons found items for sale at the Pittsburgh airport beyond the security checkpoint that could be used as weapons. It wasn't reported in a fear-inducing way, but wisely questioned the status quo. It was easily the most relevant, worthwhile sweeps report I've seen so far.

KDKA's Andy Sheehan reported on "toxic mold," which sounds sensational, but Sheehan's report was not. It alerted viewers to a home hazard they may not have known about. My only complaint: Like many sweeps reports, it aired in two parts, with the most useful information saved for part two.

Though not a sweeps feature, KDKA's Brenda Waters offered a nicely done report on a U.S. Army chaplain and her duties.

On WPXI, Becky Thompson reported on "the cost of convenience," a useful consumer story that explained why shipping charges are based on the cost instead of weight for items ordered by mail or the Internet.

As for the lamer stories, WTAE will damage its investigative franchise if it turns out many more so-called "investigations" like Tuesday's report on a suspected terrorist who's been in jail since August. Channel 4's report by Parsons did little to advance the story, which was reported by broadcast and print outlets weeks ago.

And what's with TV stations trying to put an investigative spin on regular news of the day? Last week KDKA reported on city preparedness in the event of a terrorist attack, with an anchor saying, "KDKA has learned ..." before cutting to video from a press conference. If KDKA "learned" about the story from a press conference, so did every other news outlet in town.

PET plans

At its press conference yesterday, Pittsburgh Educational Television announced a new Web site (www.save16.org) and plans to broadcast programs representative of what they'd like to see on Channel 16.

PET has purchased time on low-power station WBGN and will air programs from 9 to 11 p.m. on Nov. 13 and 20.

The first night will feature the documentaries "Building the House They Lived In," a history of the California labor movement, and "The Last Graduation: The Rise & Fall of College Programs in Prison."

The second night will feature "Global Village or Global Pillage," a how-to film about fighting "attacks by multinational corporations on workers and the environment," and "Falun Gong: Challenge to China."

"Put the Public in Public Broadcasting," a video produced by Citizens for Independent Public Broadcasting and narrated by Mike Farrell ("Providence") will also air.

PET is opposed to WQED's efforts to get permission from the FCC to change the license of WQEX from noncommercial/educational to commercial with an eye toward selling WQEX for $20 million to ShootingStar Inc.

The new PET Web site will soon include a copy of the group's business plan for running WQEX should the Federal Communications Commission grant PET the Channel 16 license.

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

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