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New TV series come into sharper focus

Thursday, October 31, 2002

By Rob Owen, Post-Gazette TV Editor

More than a month into the television season, it's clear some of my first impressions of new series were premature. That's often the way it goes.

Judging a series by its first episode is always tricky, but now, with several episodes aired, it's easier to separate the wheat from the chaff.

Here are impressions of series I've been watching more often than not.

"Everwood" (9 p.m. Monday, The WB): The father-son dynamic -- played on screen by Treat Williams and uber-pale Gregory Smith -- remains this show's strongest suit, but creator Greg Berlanti wisely introduced a town full of intriguing characters, fleshing out rival Dr. Abbott (Tom Amandes) and making him more than the mustache-twirling stock villain he was in the pilot. A recent episode even showed Abbott displaying useful wisdom, advising Doc Brown (Williams) to parent his teenage son, not be his friend.

But the series can be heavy- handed, especially an episode about young Delia (Vivien Cardone) in class with a teacher who forced girls to sit in the back of the classroom and boys up front. That seems unthinkable in 2002, but even if you suspend your disbelief, the teacher had every right to demand her students take their hats off, something Doc Brown stubbornly objected to for no discernible reason.

Still, "Everwood" has become the new series I look most forward to each week.

"American Dreams" (8 p.m. Sundays, NBC): Having officially given up on The WB's "7th Heaven," I was ready for a new family drama and "Dreams" fits the bill. Self-indulgent baby boomers reminiscing about the old days grew tiresome in the '80s, but "American Dreams" mostly avoids that trap by taking place in the era. Plus, "Dreams" has this season's best new theme song performed by Emerson Hart of Tonic. Bring on the show's soundtrack!

"Boomtown" (10 p.m. Sundays, NBC): A smart, engrossing police drama that's a much better option Sunday night than ABC's worn-out "The Practice."

"Robbery Homicide Division" (10 p.m. Fridays, CBS): I wasn't wild about the first episode of this series, but it's grown on me thanks to strong performances from star Tom Sizemore and the supporting cast. And the stories have been superior to those on "CSI: Miami." Too bad the "Robbery" ratings are so low. It's a crime.

"Life With Bonnie" (9 p.m. Tuesdays, ABC): Slowly, I'm warming to Bonnie Hunt's latest sitcom. Its mix of scripted and improvised segments remains only intermittently funny, but I admire Hunt's courage in avoiding smutty humor. For once, a 9 p.m. show deserves to air at 8.

"Birds of Prey" (9 p.m. Wednesdays, The WB): The more I've watched, the more it reminds me of "Charmed." So I won't be watching the "Birds" again anytime soon.

"Firefly" (8 p.m. Fridays, Fox): This sci-fi Western from the creator of "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" should have grabbed me out of the gate. It didn't. I continue to watch and become a little more intrigued by the characters, but it's still not as compelling as it should be.

"The Agency" (10 p.m. Saturdays, CBS): Last year this show was a sober, engrossing look at the CIA. This year, forced romantic stories are getting in the way. In the second episode, bickering spy couple Stiles (Jason O'Mara) and Terri (Paige Turco) quarreled via phone while co-workers listened to her end of the conversation. You'd think trained spies would be more discreet. Any sense of reality the show once had is evaporating. More recent episodes have been less romance-heavy, but the show's turn remains disappointing.

'King' on top

Sunday night on Fox "The Simpsons" (8 p.m.) offers its annual Halloween episode, "Malcolm in the Middle" (9 p.m.) has its season premiere and "King of the Hill" retakes its original time slot, 8:30 p.m. They're all enjoyable episodes, but "King of the Hill" is the best.

Maybe I'd forgotten how much I liked this series. I'm certainly not the only one. It's been relegated to 7:30 p.m. in recent years, and ratings dropped. It's back in its rightful place, and now is a good time to rediscover this comedy gem.

Sunday's premiere finds Hank, aghast at the rap music Bobby listens to, turning his son on to boy band music with equally appalling results. That leads to a more substantial story depicting the differences in parenting skills between Hank and the parents of Bobby's friend.

Hank is all about tradition, structure and rules. The other parents want to be their kids' best friends.

"King of the Hill" is that rare television show that sets a positive example for traditional values, even as it pokes amiable fun at them. Hank's wife, Peggy, gets upset when neighborhood women decide Hank is one of the less sexy men on the street. Hank's straight-arrow behavior only reinforces the point.

"They looked like Chandler and Monica," Peggy wails after meeting the other parents, "and we're Andy Griffith and Aunt freakin' Bea!"

Nothing wrong with the classics.

Ugh, sweeps

November sweeps officially begins today, but it arrived early on Channel 11 with a report last Friday that left me shaking my head in dismay. Poor Keith Jones drew the short straw, having to re-enact how the Washington, D.C., area sniper suspects went on their killing spree.

During a live report, Jones climbed into the trunk of a Caprice (wrong year, he acknowledged, but close) while holding the same type of gun used by the suspects. There was little value in this report aside from giving viewers a chance to laugh as a reporter closed a trunk lid on himself.

October ratings (see accompanying chart) show KDKA's 4 p.m. newscast continues to rank second, edging out a win over "The Oprah Winfrey Show." The 10 p.m. news ratings are pretty meaningless this time because of disruptions by baseball on Fox, which bumped WPGH's news to WCWB for more than half the ratings period.

You can reach Rob Owen at 412-263-2582 orrowen@post-gazette.com . Post questions or comments to www.post-gazette.com/tv under TV Forum.

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