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TV Reviews: Ratings likely to follow ABC's '8 Simple Rules'

Tuesday, September 17, 2002

By Rob Owen, Post-Gazette TV Editor

As ABC, desperate for a hit, tries to rebuild its prime-time schedule and climb out of the Nielsen ratings cellar, the network has dubbed the 8 p.m. time slot "Happy Hour" in an attempt to get back to its historic roots of family sitcoms.

 
 
"8 Simple Rules For Dating My Teenage Daughter"

When: 8 tonight on ABC.

Starring: John Ritter, Katey Sagal.

   
 

"8 Simple Rules for Dating My Teenage Daughter" is the quintessential ABC comedy and, frankly, the network's only clear hope for a new hit.

What makes an ABC sitcom? It's funny, with an occasional edge, but nothing revolutionary; it appeals to a broad audience but especially draws younger viewers. "8 Simple Rules" was constructed with exacting adherence to those blueprints.

John Ritter stars as Paul Hennessy, a dad who only wants to do right by his kids but stumbles every step of the way.

He freaks out over the way 16-year-old Bridget (Kaley Cuoco) dresses. He gets annoyed by the sullen attitude of less glamorous 15-year-old Kerry (Amy Davidson). And he seeks solace from 13-year-old Rory (Martin Spanjers), his only male counterpart in the house.

When Bridget prepares to go out for the night with the straps of her thong underwear showing, Paul cracks wise, saying, "Well, maybe that's why your generation is so angry. Because you're walking around all day with a wedgie."

Based on the book of the same name by W. Bruce Cameron, this sitcom shows a father trying hard to relate to his kids and probably trying too hard (no, the rules of the show's title are never spelled out).

His wife, Cate (Katey Sagal), isn't around to help out much because of her nursing job, leaving dear ol' dad to deal with his girls and their boys. When one pulls into the driveway and honks, Paul sets him straight.

"If you ever pull into my driveway and honk, you'd better be delivering a package, because you're sure as hell not picking anything up."

Not flashy, not spectacular, "8 Simple Rules" is a cute show that will appeal to its intended audience.

'Life with Bonnie'

Bonnie Hunt is delightful, but her TV shows go over like a lead balloon.

After flopping with "The Building" and "The Bonnie Hunt Show," the Chicago native tries again with this series that blends scripted comedy with improvisation. It's an uneasy mix in tonight's premiere that never jells.

 
 
"Life With Bonnie"

When: 8:30 tonight on ABC.

Starring: Bonnie Hunt.

   
 

Hunt stars as Bonnie Molloy, harried mother to three and TV host of a local morning show in Chicago.

When Bonnie's at home, sparring good-naturedly with her husband (Mark Derwin) and housekeeper (Marianne Muellerleile), the comedic quips are mostly scripted. When she gets to the TV station, the show becomes ad lib central. It's an awkward transition, especially because the unscripted stuff tends to drag.

"This wine is so strong, you're both getting better-looking," Bonnie tells chefs in a rare, genuinely funny moment during a cooking segment.

"Life With Bonnie," which will normally air 9 p.m. Tuesdays, might improve in the coming weeks, but there's not much in the first episode that inspires laughs.

'Push, Nevada'

Viewers who enjoyed visiting "Twin Peaks" on a weekly basis might want to book an hour to travel to the desert in "Push, Nevada," ABC's new David Lynch-like mystery series.

Like "Peaks," "Push" has an upright investigator, oddball characters and a strange town.

Tonight's pilot is slowly paced (molasses comes to mind at certain points), but intriguing enough to hold the interest of viewers tired of the ordinary. Those are probably the only people who will watch anyway, seeing as the show's regular time slot will be 9 p.m. Thursdays opposite "CSI" and "Will & Grace."

 
 
"Push, Nevada"

When: 9 tonight on ABC.

Starring: Derek Cecil.

   
 

IRS agent Jim Prufrock (Derek Cecil) receives a misdirected fax from Silas Bodnick (Jon Polito) at the Versailles Casino that sends Prufrock to Push in search of answers. Bodnick appears to also be involved in a heist of money from the casino's vault, which will be the case Prufrock -- and viewers at home -- try to solve.

Once in Push, Prufrock meets Mary (Scarlett Chorvat) at Sloman's Slo Dance Bar. She cautions him about his investigation, which seems to be under surveillance by unidentified government agents who may have the whole town bugged.

"If you're going to stay here in Push, Nevada, take your time, take careful steps," Mary says. "There's a secret, Jim, and, like all the best secrets, it's not quickly told."

That may explain the pace issues in tonight's premiere.

Regardless, Prufrock's morally upstanding character is a refreshing change from the usual cynical heroes, and the show is just strange enough to warrant future viewing. Playing along is just icing on the cake.

Tonight's premiere will repeat at 8 p.m. Thursday, followed by a new episode at 9.


Rob Owen can be reached at rowen@post-gazette.com or 412-263-2582. Post questions or comments to http://www.post-gazette.com/tv under TV Forum.

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