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TV Reviews: Networks aren't taking it easy this summer

Saturday, June 01, 2002

By Rob Owen, Post-Gazette TV Editor

The 2001-02 television season is history, but this year the broadcast networks have decided not to take the summer off. Cable networks are gearing up for their regular summer series runs, too. The summer TV doldrums no longer exist.

'Looking for Love: Bachelorettes in Alaska'
(9 p.m. tomorrow, Fox)

Another day, another shameless dating "reality" show. Unlike ABC's "The Bachelor," this time the men do the groveling before women who have traveled to Alaska "desperately seeking husbands," according to the show's announcer.

"Who will find the man of her dreams and who will be left at the altar?" he adds. "Bachelorettes" is so over-the-top, it's captivating in a look-at-that-flaming-car-wreck way. Future episodes promise sex scenes filmed security camera-style in black and white.

For the opening credits of the show, the five women wear white wedding dresses as they stand on piles of snow. Later, they're attired in matching snow bunny outfits.

Midway through the first episode, the ladies get the chance to date other guys. At the end of each episode, during a ceremony at "Proposal Point," the men make their pleas and the women make their picks.

"It wouldn't be a mating season without a little rutting going on and some knocking of horns," declares Jim, the first pick of glamour girl Rebekah.

In addition to picking which of the guys with be their "man on ice," when women receive a plea from a guy at Proposal Point, they get $2,000 added to their dowry, which is money they get to keep if they get married at the end of the show.

Who knew making a mockery of marriage could be so complicated?

'The Hamptons'
(9 p.m. tomorrow and Monday, ABC)

ABC calls "The Hamptons" a four-hour "reality miniseries," but it's actually just a really long, mostly interesting, documentary without narration.

Directed by Academy Award-winning documentarian Barbara Kopple ("American Dream," "Harlan County, U.S.A.," "My Generation"), "The Hamptons" is a specific portrait of slice-of-life regionalism, the wealthy enclave known to some as "Hollywood East."

It's a snapshot of what author Steven Gaines calls, with unwitting prescience, "the golden age." Filmed throughout the summer prior to Sept. 11, "The Hamptons" shows hedonistic, party-hearty twentysomethings and the more genteel socializing of the wealthy and settled. Sort of the Post-Gazette's Seen page captured on film.

Kopple lets her subjects and their actions speak for themselves. She doesn't pass judgment on anyone, though viewers certainly will.

I felt sorry for Angela Barber, an investment banker newly arrived in Manhattan from Oregon, who has so little sense of herself that she thinks she'll find the friends she desperately wants in the Hamptons. It takes most of the summer, but she finally realizes it's not her scene.

On the other hand, it's the perfect place for Josh Sagman, an overgrown frat boy with an annoying laugh whose flirting style makes the "Night at the Roxbury" guys look subtle.

Celebrities make frequent cameos in "The Hamptons," including the positively chummy Christie Brinkley and Billy Joel, who long ago divorced. The saga of public relations maven Lizzie Grubman, who got into trouble with the law after a hit-and-run accident outside a Hamptons night club last summer, also gets air time.

The less well-to-do also get a fair shake, including a farmer/newspaper columnist, waitresses and a local musician.

A documentary that's in large part about people who schmooze, "The Hamptons" threatens to become a snooze at times, but there's enough intrigue and interpersonal turmoil among those filmed to sustain it.

'The Wire'
(10 p.m. tomorrow, HBO)

HBO's "Six Feet Under" ends its second season at 9 p.m. tomorrow, and it's followed at 10 by "The Wire," a new 13-episode drama series about a single drugs-and-murder police investigation.

It's a murky world with no clear good guys made all the more unclear by stories, characters and motivations that unfold at a snail's pace.

Like the returning series "Farscape" (10 p.m. Friday), producers of "The Wire" seem to think viewers will wait around several episodes for answers. That could be a miscalculation.

Created by David Simon (HBO's "The Corner"), the show tracks the investigation of homicide detective James McNulty (Dominic West). His work leads to the creation of a drug gang task force headed by Lt. Cedric Daniels (Lance Reddick) as they try to take down dealer Avon Barksdale (Wood Harris) in this so-called war on drugs.

"You can't even call this a war," says one cop. "Wars end."

"The Wire" -- the title comes from wiretaps used in investigations -- has some strong, often subtle performances, particularly from Reddick, Sonja Sohn as a lesbian detective and Clarke Peters as a detective who proves more useful than McNulty expects.

The Baltimore setting brings to mind NBC's "Homicide: Life on the Street," and several actors from that series (Peter Gerety, Callie Thorne, Erik Todd Dellums) show up in "The Wire" along with many actors from HBO's "Oz" (Reddick, Seth Gilliam, JD Williams). In its own way, "The Wire" is less accessible than either of those shows.

"The Wire" gives so little, it almost begs to be abandoned; then a scene or a smidgen of character development offers a hook that might keep viewers interested. But TV shows, no matter how complex or thought-provoking, shouldn't require that much work.

'Crank Yankers'
(10:30 p.m. tomorrow, Comedy Central)

"The Man Show" hosts Adam Carolla and Jimmy Kimmel co-created this series, which basically involved getting their comedian pals to make prank phone calls. Then crude puppets -- and by that I mean they're no Muppets and a female puppet reveals her felt breasts -- re-enact the calls.

It's scattershot comedy that's really only funny when it's at its most objectionable.

In one sketch, Rob (voice of Stephen Colbert) "helps" a deaf friend by calling a phone sex line on his behalf and typing what the phone sex operator says into a computer. The deaf puppet gets sexually excited; Rob just wants it to end.

"Can I just say you're Asian?" Rob asks. "That'll make this go quicker."

It's rude, but occasionally preposterous enough to generate laughs.

'Russian Roulette'
(11 p.m. Monday, Game Show Network)

A little late to the game after the failure of "The Chair" and "The Chamber," Game Show Network introduces this show in which contestants risk having the floor open beneath them as they're ejected from the game.

How "Roulette" is played isn't explained well at the outset, but by the end of an episode, viewers will catch on to the "drop zone" gimmick, this show's only distinguishing characteristic.

It's preceded Monday at 10:30 p.m. by another new game show, "Friend or Foe," hosted by Kennedy of MTV fame. She does her best Anne Robinson in this "Weakest Link" wannabe. Pairs of contestants must work as a team until their final round, when they play what amounts to "rock, paper, scissors" to determine if they'll split their winnings, take it all or go home with nothing.

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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