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TV Reviews: NBC's 'Leap of Faith' likely to take a fall

Thursday, February 28, 2002

By Rob Owen, Post-Gazette TV Editor

By getting the stars of "Friends" to come back next fall for one last season, NBC executives bought themselves time to create an inheritor to the throne.

TV Reviews

"Leap of Faith"

When: 8:30 tonight on NBC.
Starring: Sarah Paulson, Brad Rowe

"Survivor: Marquesas"

When: 8 tonight on CBS.
Hosted by: Jeff Probst

"The Agency"

When: 10 tonight on CBS.
Starring: Gil Bellows, Beau Bridges

"State of Grace"

When: 8 p.m. tomorrow on ABC Family.
Starring: Dinah Manoff, Mae Whitman


But given NBC's inability to do that for almost the past decade, there's no reason to expect there will be a coronation anytime soon. The successor certainly won't be the new series "Leap of Faith" (8:30 tonight, WPXI).

Like so many Thursday night efforts before it, "Leap of Faith" is a pale imitation of a hit series. Created by former "Sex and the City" scribe Jenny Bicks, the structure is similar to that of "Sex and the City" -- just remove Miranda and Charlotte and replace them with a guy (Ken Marino) and a more secure woman (Regina King).

Faith Wardwell (Sarah Paulson, "Jack & Jill") is only nine days away from marrying a stable, secure guy, which in television terms always translates into a boring guy. At 32, Faith has given up her "slutty single girl skirt" and she's ready to take the plunge until -- and you just knew there'd be an "until," didn't you? -- she meets Dan (Brad Rowe), an actor who moonlights as an apartment building manager.

"I felt sex with him," she says shortly before she has sex with him.

"I'm a trollop. I'm a terrible, terrible, terrible person," she says, and I'm not about to disagree.

Faith is encouraged in her wayward behavior by her friend and co-worker Patty (Lisa Edelstein). When the pair are assigned to work on a golf club account, Patty complains to their boss (Tim Meadows), "Don't you have a nice douche we could sell the hell out of?"

By scheduling this show in the post-"Friends" time slot, NBC is taking a leap of faith of its own that this comedy can hold onto the "Friends" audience. Such faith will likely be rewarded by a leap into a ratings black hole.

'Survivor: Marquesas'
(8 tonight, CBS)

It's back to the beach for CBS's "Survivor" franchise as the fourth installment premieres. For the first time, CBS decided to send critics a review tape of most of the premiere episode, a sure sign that they feel the need to publicize the show in the wake of lower ratings for the last edition.

As someone who was bored to tears by "Survivor: Africa" and tuned out after a few episodes, I would say "Marquesas" has the potential to be an improvement. Just the lush location and abundance of water gives this "Survivor" a more adventurous, less lethargic feel in its first hour.

This time, the tribes are provided with no rations. They'll have to rely on what this South Pacific island provides.

So far, the Rotu tribe seems to be the most cohesive, although task-master Kathy gets on the nerves of registered nurse John with her vocal concern about the tribe's lack of fire.

The Maraamu tribe is more entertaining. As the team paddles on the ocean, trying to get to the remote island of Nuku Hiva, Sarah sits on top of the raft, "like Cleopatra," according to Sean, a school teacher from Harlem. Sean also has problems with the take-charge attitude of Federal Express pilot Hunter.

"I'm from Harlem and I'm representing," boasts Sean, a self-described "Alpha male."

Sarah gets close with Massachusetts construction worker Rob, who thinks yoga practitioner Peter is "a fruit loop."

Time will tell whether this "Survivor" becomes a cultural phenomenon -- doubtful -- but it may at least prove to be a more entertaining adventure than the last one.

'The Agency'
(10 tonight, CBS)

Not that many people will pass up "ER" -- especially with the possibility of Dr. Greene's brain tumor recurring -- but anyone who has tuned to CBS at 10 p.m. Thursday in recent weeks has seen "The Agency" develop into a worthy spy drama.

An episode last month, especially, was a taut thriller as interim director Quinn (Daniel Benzali) attempted to track down a shooter who wounded operatives Matt Callen (Gil Bellows) and Lisa Fabrizzi (Gloria Reuben, who returns to the show later in the season).

Tonight the new director of the CIA, Sen. Tom Gage (Beau Bridges), has his first day on the job, but it's complicated by the interference of snake-like Quinn, who is now liaison for homeland security.

"We keep secrets from our enemies, not from each other," Gage lectures Quinn after a student with CIA connections is murdered. "And you do not keep secrets from me!"

Gage is cheerful and upbeat; Quinn is menacing. Quinn predicts Gage won't last six months, a year tops.

"By then this ridiculous hunger for a nice public face will have dissipated, and we can all get back to what we were trained for: protecting the interests of the United States of America," Quinn sneers.

The addition of Quinn, played by the always slithery Benzali, upped the dramatic ante on "The Agency." Coupled with better character development and better plots, it's made the show much more engrossing than early episodes.

CBS clearly believes in the show, plugging reruns in Saturday at 9 p.m. in the next few weeks to try and win over a larger audience. Though its fate won't be known until May, "The Agency" deserves a chance to shine out from under the shadow of "ER."

'State of Grace'
(8 p.m. tomorrow, ABC Family Channel)

The name of the network changed from Fox Family to ABC Family, but the winning series "State of Grace" remains as gentle and endearing as ever.

The '60s-set show returns for its second season with Grace (Mae Whitman) dreading her mother's latest marriage. Hannah (Alia Shawkat) and her family get addicted to their new color TV.

It's sweet and funny, honest and contemplative, a great show for parents and children to watch and enjoy together.

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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