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Tuned In: Lifetime airs another lukewarm drama

Sunday, July 21, 2002

By Rob Owen, Post-Gazette TV Editor

One of these days Lifetime will air a worthwhile original drama. Today is not that day.

 
 
TV Review

"For the People"

When: 10 tonight on Lifetime.

Starring: Lea Thompson, Debbi Morgan.

   
 

Taking a page from A&E's late, lamented "100 Centre St.," "For the People" pits a liberal chief deputy assistant district attorney (Lea Thompson) against her more conservative boss (Debbi Morgan).

This being Lifetime, though, it's not in the network's DNA to allow Morgan's Lora Gibson to be [begin itals] too [end itals] conservative, which saps the tension between the characters and diminishes the drama.

Set in Los Angeles, "For the People" begins with the introduction of Thompson's Camille Paris, the kind of modern woman who has a casual, easy relationship with her ex-husband (A Martinez), a public defender. She's tough, walks fast and tries to remain professional at all times.

"I'm a prosecutor," she declares. "I prosecute those who offend the law, not my feelings."

Perhaps if she says it enough it will be true.

In tonight's premiere, which does a poor job of explaining what some of the characters do, Paris takes on a Dr. Laura-like radio talk show host who she claims incited an attack and murder of a gay man.

Can't TV show writers come up with another all-purpose punching bag? Pinning the evils of the world on Dr. Laura is a tired crutch.

Other characters include Paris' sister, a recovering alcoholic, who has moved her and her son into Paris' home, and Anita Lopez (Cecilia Suarez), the head prosecuting attorney.

Another character in the pilot, played by actress Kimiko Gelman, gets pegged as the sexy, adventurous one.

"I drive a tricked-out Porsche that's so hot even God stops to watch it," she boasts. She won't be in the weekly series, for which we can all be grateful.

"For the People" was created by Catherine LePard, who wrote tonight's premiere. She previously worked on The WB's "7th Heaven," a series that also tends to frame issues, develop tension and then let it evaporate with easy, unrealistic solutions.

The same thing happens here. The denouement of the case against the Dr. Laura-like character is as predictable as it is TV-unreal.

For all the set-up of Paris and Gibson as rivals, they seem to get along fairly well. That one woman is white and the other black plays little role in tonight's episode, but that dynamic is another echo of the characters played by Alan Arkin and LaTanya Richardson on "Centre St." That show dared to portray ideological opposites as friends with respect and tolerance for each other's views, a much more complex relationship than "For the People" attempts.

Thompson has always been a likable actress, but the writing doesn't serve her well here. Paris is written as too together, too tough, too flawless to be believed.

Morgan, best known for her soap opera roles on "All My Children" and "General Hospital," plays Gibson as a stereotypical cold fish conservative with a bun of hair that couldn't possible get any tighter.

At least "Any Day Now" tackled racial issues and had something to say. "The Division," "Strong Medicine" and now "For the People" just recycle tired, cliched plots in a misguided attempt to suck up to women with characters that are powerful and ridiculously invulnerable. Don't the women who watch Lifetime deserve better?

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