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TV Reviews: Sebak fills 'Sandwiches' with fun and real people

Wednesday, September 18, 2002

By Rob Owen, Post-Gazette TV Editor

There's only one problem with Rick Sebak's "Sandwiches That You Will Like" (8 tonight, WQED). Watching it will make you hungry.

Otherwise, it's a delightful Sebak survey of sandwiches from across the country and their place in American culture.

 
 
"Sandwiches That You Will Like"

When: 8 tonight on WQED.

Producer/writer/narrator: Rick Sebak.

   
 

There's beef on weck in Buffalo, cheesesteak in Philadelphia, French dip in Los Angeles, Italian beef in Chicago, Thelma's BarBQue in Houston and lobster rolls in Maine.

True to Pittsburgh, Sebak also includes a mention of Primanti Bros. and devotes a segment to one of the few remaining Isaly's.

As usual, the charm of Sebak's "Sandwiches" is his use of real people who comment on their lunches, sing the praises of the sandwich and behave in ways that are just very, very human.

"It's an easy meal, but there's lots of good things in one little package," says one woman.

Another sandwich connoisseur says he thinks sandwiches are "definitely a guy thing," which prompts sly Sebak and editor Kevin Conrad to immediately cut to a shot of a woman eating a sandwich.

"Sandwiches" is one of Sebak's national specials that gets a sneak peek locally before airing nationally on PBS in February. It was selected by PBS, along with the upcoming rebroadcast of Ken Burns' "The Civil War" and a remake of "The Forsyte Saga," to air as a "target of opportunity outside of pledge." That means it will air locally and nationally with pledge breaks -- but not during a pledge period -- that push the 60-minute special to 90 minutes when the breaks are included.

"Sandwiches" also will compete in the Savannah Film and Video Festival in late October.

'Cedric the Entertainer Presents'

Pairing "The Bernie Mac Show" with this new sketch comedy makes some sense because Mac and Cedric were both part of the Original Kings of Comedy stand-up tour.

But the tone of the two series is starkly different. "Bernie Mac" returns at 8 tonight in an episode that's light on Bernie's interaction with his sister's children -- usually the best part of any episode -- but includes Mac's slow burns and embarrassments. "Bernie Mac" remains the funniest, most enjoyably good-natured family comedy on the air.

 
 
"Cedric the Entertainer Presents"

When: 8:30 tonight on Fox.

Starring: Cedric the Entertainer.

   
 

Like most sketch shows, "Cedric" is hit or miss. One of the hit skits in the original pilot -- Cedric uses a different dialect depending on the social class of the two girlfriends he encounters at a movie theater -- is missing from tonight's premiere.

The likely breakout character, Mrs. Cafeteria Lady, remains at her position. Cedric plays her in drag as an angry woman who knows everything about the people who come through the cafeteria line.

"I'm like a cup of coffee," Mrs. Cafeteria Lady says, "I'm hot, black and strong!"

Other sketches achieve varying degrees of success, including one about TV news anchors who bring their children to work for the day with disastrous results.

'Fastlane'

An orgy of sex, violence, fast cars, cool clothes, hip-hop slang and ear-splitting music, Fox's "Fastlane" is a good "bad" show. It epitomizes style over substance and defines guilty pleasure.

Anyone wanting a story that makes sense, that holds together logically, look elsewhere. In "Fastlane," plot developments are just an excuse to get to the next slow-motion sequence, the next scene that resembles a music video.

 
 
"Fastlane"

When: 9 tonight on Fox.

Starring: Peter Facinelli, Bill Bellamy.

   
 

Scruffy pretty boy Van Ray (Peter Facinelli) sees his partner (guest star Vondie Curtis Hall) die in a hail of bullets and sets out to right the wrong. His partner's brother, Deaqon Hayes (Bill Bellamy), arrives on the scene, and Van takes time to introduce himself before they get into a fight that sends them over a balcony and down several stories into a pool.

They're recruited by Billie Chambers (Tiffani Thiessen) to work as deep undercover cops. "I need a hard charger who will drop his life and never look back," Billie says, "a face that can get past the rope and a body good to go all night."

Did I mention that the dialogue is hopelessly hokey, too?

No matter. "Fastlane" is as empty-headed as the gas tank in a fast car after a long race. It's big, loud and dumb, but it's a fun ride.

'The Twilight Zone'

Never mind that this rehash of the '60s classic is zero for two in the trite stories in tonight's premiere. It's an anthology series, a genre that's been out of favor for 20 years. Bringing back an old show won't reinvent the anthology and give it new life; it only serves to put another nail in the genre's coffin.

This argument is contrary to the one put forth by today's network executives who prefer shows with stand-alone episodes to those with continuing stories because the stand-alone shows do better in the ratings when they go into repeats. But even stand-alone series such as "Law & Order" and "CSI" draw viewers in with their characters. Those shows don't have story arcs, but they do have characters viewers have come to enjoy spending time with each week.

 
 
"The Twilight Zone"

When: 9 tonight on UPN.

Host: Forest Whitaker.

   
 

On "The Twilight Zone," the only recurring character is host Forest Whitaker, who shows up to bookend each story with a pithy line that incorporates the show's title. That won't leave viewers begging for more.

Tonight's first story in the "Zone" is a liberal's worst nightmare about nonconforming teens whose families move into a gated community where all the kids are forced to behave while wearing khaki pants and white shirts. The plot might appeal to teen-age viewers tuning in after "Enterprise," although it would probably pair better with "Buffy the Vampire Slayer." Regardless, the denouement is a predictable letdown.

Jason Alexander stars in the second story as a suicidal man who claims to be death. It's an interesting premise and a thoughtful meditation on mortality. Alexander brings just the right tone of tired whimsy to the role, but the conclusion isn't mind-blowing, which, when you slap the name "Twilight Zone" on a series, is exactly what audiences expect.


Rob Owen can be reached at rowen@post-gazette.com or 412-263-2582.

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