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On the Tube: 'Tremors' series kills the camp

Friday, March 28, 2003

By Rob Owen, Post-Gazette TV Editor

There's nothing quite like seeing a giant sand creature chow down on an unwitting human. At least that was the appeal of the campy "Tremors" series of movies that began in 1990.

Still, with the advent of Sci Fi Channel's "Tremors" TV series, I can't help but think: For this they canceled "Farscape"?

Michael Gross ("Family Ties"), who starred in the movies, returns as "anti-social, paramilitary paranoid" Burt Gummer, the lead adversary of ground-dwelling graboids in Perfection, Nev. A few other characters from the movies return, although different actors play their parts.

The series, which will normally air at 10 p.m. Fridays, premieres at 9 tonight with two back-to-back episodes. The first one introduces new-to-town Tyler Reed (Victor Browne), who plans to take over Desert Jack's Graboid Tour business. First he'll need a new set of wheels: A graboid named El Blanco devours his car.

The second hour suggests a "Buffy the Vampire Slayer"-like approach to the series (aka a "Buffy" rip-off). Instead of being set over a hellmouth, hippie Nancy Sterngood (Marcia Strassman) suggests Perfection is built atop a vortex of weirdness. How else to explain the green ghost that's killed visitors in a local mine?

With "Tremors," the special effects have always been cheap and the appeal, such as it is, came from the campy humor, particularly concerning the Burt Gummer character. But the TV series, from the same creators and writers as the movies, mostly plays it straight. There's some humor, but suspense is the primary vibe in the first two episodes.

As for character development, let's just say the sand creatures fare better than the humans.

'REGULAR JOE'
(9:30 Tonight, ABC)

At least this sitcom lives up to its title. "Regular Joe" is absolutely that -- not particularly good, not extraordinarily awful. It's just a typical, limp ABC family sitcom.

Daniel Stern stars as Joe, a widowed father with a teenage son (John Francis Daley) and elderly father (Judd Hirsch) at home. Oh, and his teenage daughter (Kelly Karbacz), who just had a child of her own, also lives with the family.

Joe runs a neighborhood hardware store where his top employee is Sitvar, whose Indian accent is played for laughs. Sitvar has a rather amorous relationship with the store's paint mixer.

"She's my baby. I know her rhythms, the way she likes to be treated," Sitvar says, "when to be rough, when to be tender."

In tonight's premiere, Joe's son, Grant, wants a raise but Joe won't budge. Sitvar wants Grant away from the paint mixer and plots a way to get Grant and Joe at each others' throats.

For Stern, "Regular Joe" is a step up from the truly dreadful, thankfully short-lived CBS comedy "Danny." But pity poor Daley, whose first series starring gig was NBC's brilliant "Freaks and Geeks." Since then he's been stuck in soggy sitcoms, including "Geena" and now "Regular Joe." At least he's outgrown his geekiness; too bad he can't find another series that's a little less, well, regular.

'BLACK SASH'
(9 P.M. Sunday, The WB)

Making a pilot episode of a series is a learning experience in many ways. Something you might learn: Your leading man has the emotional range of an iceberg.

That's something the makers of The WB's "Black Sash" must have figured out about series star Russell Wong, who plays Tom Chang, an ex-cop wrongly imprisoned for five years. Now he's out and teaching martial arts skills to teenage "Are You Hot?" prospects.

For a show with so much martial arts punching and kicking, there's little kick to "Black Sash." Sunday's premiere is a bit of a bore, particularly when stone-faced Wong is front and center. It improves somewhat when his students take the lead, as they do in a second episode sent for review.

The teens are all types we've seen before -- Trip (Corey Sevier) comes from an abusive home, baby-voiced Allie (Sarah Carter) has the hots for Bryan (Ray J) and tough-girl Tori (Missy Peregrym) mourns her murdered cop dad -- but they're still more interesting than Wong and will probably have more appeal to The WB's core audience.

'THE PITTS'
(9:30 P.M. Sunday, FOX)

There was a time when "high concept" comedies -- those with slightly odd or even bizarre premises -- actually made for decent television. I still have a soft spot in my heart for "ALF," even though its fuzzy star is now shilling for a long-distance provider.

High concept can still work comedically; just look at Fox's late, lamented and much praised "Andy Richter Controls the Universe."

But there's little to like about "The Pitts," a juvenile sitcom about a family with bad luck.

"We are not cursed," says father Bob Pitt (Dylan Baker). "The Pitts are just one of those families that has a little extra bad luck, like the Kennedys."

It's not ordinary bad luck the Pitts suffer from; it's bizarre, unworldly bad luck. In the opening credits they run from dinosaurs and an atomic blast.

Sunday's premiere begins with son Petey (David Henrie) having Satan exorcised from him. Future episodes feature a haunted car and werewolves.

The biggest question surrounding "The Pitts" is who has incriminating evidence on Dylan Baker? He's an acclaimed and respected actor. What's he doing in this sitcom whose appeal is limited to people under the age of 18?

As his wife, Kelly Waymire's high-pitched, nasal voice brings to mind Kitty (Debra Jo Rupp) on "That '70s Show." Viewers may recognize Waymire from "Six Feet Under," where she played Brenda's prostitute friend.

"The Pitts" was created by the husband-and-wife team of Mike Scully and Julie Thacker-Scully, who both wrote for "The Simpsons." It's odd that they've created a series "The Simpsons" would have a heyday mocking. You'd think they'd know better.


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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