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TV Reviews: Two winners for CBS, while glitz fails for NBC

Monday, September 22, 2003

By Rob Owen, Post-Gazette TV Editor

Finally, a comedy that gets it right.

CBS's "Two-and-a-Half Men" is the right sitcom at the right time. Well-cast, well written and actually funny (imagine that!), this one's a keeper.

Charlie Sheen plays, well, another version of Charlie Sheen, a lady's man who drinks too much and tends to sleep around. The show wants us to believe Sheen's Charlie Harper writes jingles for TV commercials -- a bit of a stretch -- when he's not hung over or hiding from his crazy neighbor Rose (Melanie Lynskey), who calls him "Monkey Man."

His life of ease is interrupted when his brother, Alan (Jon Cryer) and 10-year-old nephew Jake (Angus T. Jones) move in after Alan's wife, Judy (Marin Hinkle), kicks him out.

"What was the point of our wedding vows?" Alan says. " 'Til death do us part? Who died? Not me! Not her!"

Judy calls Alan the most "rigid, inflexible, obsessive, anal-retentive man I've ever met."

"Rigid and inflexible?" Alan responds. "Don't you think that's a little redundant?"

Written by Chuck Lorre ("Dharma & Greg") and Lee Aronsohn, "Two-and-a-Half Men" is a treat for fans of TV comedy. It has sharp writing and a winning turn by actress Holland Taylor as Charlie and Alan's patrician mother. It's a riff on roles she's played a million times before, but she makes the best of it.

The real draw, though, is Cryer, a funny actor with exceptional timing who's had some great shows -- Fox's "Partners," CBS's "The Famous Teddy Z" -- but they always seem to tank. With this show, the curse will likely be broken.

And let's not forget the "Half" of the show's title. Little Angus T. Jones is a natural talent. He doesn't seem fake or too TV-kid cute, and he plays off his co-stars with the ease of a TV veteran.

'Las Vegas'

NBC's newest Monday night drama, "Las Vegas" (10 tonight; regular time slot is 9 p.m.) is all style, no substance. Set at the fictional Montecito Resort & Casino on the Strip, the premiere, directed by Michael Watkins, has a certain visual panache as it zooms from a dead body in the desert, into the city, up the Strip, into the hotel and up to a room where a blond woman is writhing atop a hunk.

Turns out she's Delinda (Molly Sims), daughter of the Montecito's head of surveillance, Big Ed Deline (James Caan). And the guy beneath her is Danny McCoy (Josh Duhamel), who works for Big Ed. He doesn't know he's sleeping with the boss's daughter until Big Ed barges in, and then his really bad day begins.

Danny has to catch a cheater, find a missing big spender, arrange for a wedding anniversary gift and avoid being killed by Big Ed. Along the way, viewers meet Danny's father -- Danny abandoned the family business and the two are estranged -- and his best friend, Mary (Nikki Cox), an escort in the first version of the pilot who has since been made the hotel's director of special events.

The camera zooms in and out throughout the show, "CSI"-like, but instead of going in for extreme close-ups of body parts, on "Las Vegas" the images appear to come at the end of a long trip from a security camera, through cable and up to a monitor.

NBC envisions Duhamel as a charismatic new star -- think of a more handsome, beefier Joshua Jackson -- and he may be. But "Las Vegas" is all glitz, and the pilot gives no sense of what the show will be on a regular basis. There's some indication it could be a soap, but in July producers said that won't be the case. They stubbornly refused to say what it will be, though, which never bodes well for a newborn TV series.

'The Guardian'

Tomorrow's third season premiere picks up right where the cliffhanger left off -- James (Charles Malik Whitfield) had been shot and Nick (Simon Baker) and Burton (Dabney Coleman) beat up a man who stole their parking spot.

Written by Pittsburgh native/series creator David Hollander and Rick Eid, the episode wraps up most of last season's loose ends efficiently and with an attention to character detail that's admirable: Alvin (Alan Rosenberg) has an obsession with a missing CD that's both petty and utterly human.

That's what makes this Pittsburgh-set series so sophisticated. Unlike most prime-time dramas that will only depict their characters as saints, "The Guardian" (9 p.m. tomorrow) allows its characters to have every emotion, reaction and behavior across the spectrum of the human condition, even when it doesn't portray them in a positive light.

Tonight's episode includes one scene filmed in Pittsburgh that shows off the gleaming new Convention Center in the background.

Next week's episode, "Big Coal," is a raw look at the toll taken by local industries. It was filmed partially in Donora and includes scenes shot in front of the Frick Building, Downtown.

Nick is torn between doing what his heart tells him is right and what his head tells him is his obligation in an hour that's emotionally devastating without being maudlin. "The Guardian" doesn't get the media attention of other quality ensemble dramas, but "Big Coal" proves it deserves better.


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

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