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TV Reviews: 'Karen Sisco' has limited appeal; 'Relative' in a snit

Wednesday, October 01, 2003

By Rob Owen, Post-Gazette TV Editor

Fans of film noir and hard-boiled detective fiction will probably enjoy spending time with ABC's "Karen Sisco" (10 tonight). Actress Carla Gugino takes over the title role from Jennifer Lopez, who played Sisco in the George Clooney film "Out of Sight," based on characters created in an Elmore Leonard novel.

 
 
"Karen Sisco"

When: 10 tonight on ABC.

Starring: Carla Gugino

   
 

Gugino -- most recently seen as the mom in the "Spy Kids" films -- is well cast as a feisty, tough U.S. marshal who's feminine enough to have dating trouble but strong enough not to exhibit much concern about it.

Her closest confidant is her father, Marshall (Robert Forster), a semi-retired private investigator. He probably taught her much of what she knows, but now she barks the commands. In a future episode when they come under fire together, she calls the shots. When Dad balks, she crisply responds, "Don't argue with me, Dad."

In tonight's premiere, Sisco is back from medical leave after being shot in the line of duty. Her boss (Bill Duke) wants her to take it easy. Sisco keeps re-imagining the events that led her to be shot, putting together the missing pieces of her memory from that night.

Not a lot of time is spent exploring characters other than the lead in this series, and the stories sort of wander by, almost daring you to get involved.

"Karen Sisco" is a cool cocktail. It's not my taste, but it might be yours.

'It's All Relative'

 
 
"It's All Relative"

When: 8:30 tonight on ABC.

Starring: Lenny Clarke

   
 

If you can't get enough of family squabbles in your own life, then by all means, tune in to "It's All Relative," a sitcom where everyone shouts or is in a snit. It's a shoutcom and a snitcom at the same time.

Everyone's in a tizzy because of his or her own particular brand of intolerance. When the son from an Irish-Catholic Republican family -- I know, it's usually Irish-Catholic Democrats, but they decided to change it up this time -- falls in love with the daughter of a gay couple, the invectives fly 2 fast 2 furious.

Bobby (Reid Scott) loves Liz (Maggie Lawson), but his conservative parents, Mace (Lenny Clarke) and Audrey (Harriet Sansom Harris), are inconsolable.

"She was raised by a couple of fruit loops!" Mace yells.

Liz's parents -- art gallery owner Philip (John Benjamin Hickey) and third-grade teacher Simon (Christopher Sieber) -- aren't pleased either, though their snobbishness comes from a disdain for Bobby's lower-class roots and lack of sophistication. They try to talk her out of it.

"Having the hots for a hunky bartender is part of growing up," Simon says. "We've all been there."

Once you get past the gay jokes and the Neanderthal jokes, there's not much to this story. A future episode focuses on Liz making Bobby apologize to his ex-girlfriends and explain the real reason he broke up with them. One of the exes refuses to go away and Liz feels threatened; the same sort of only-on-a-sitcom story viewers have been subjected to for years.

"It's All Relative"? It's all bad.

'Smallville'

 
 
"Smallville"

When: 8 tonight on The WB.

Starring: Tom Welling

   
 

The May season finale of Clark Kent's story left me underwhelmed. Clark (Tom Welling) had ridden off, abandoning his family and wearing the red Kryptonite ring that makes him turn into Bad Clark. "Smallville" producers went down the Bad Clark path several times last season, and the season finale felt like they went to the well once too often.

In tonight's season premiere, three months have passed and Bad Clark is tearing it up in Metropolis, robbing banks and blowing up cop cars. Lex Luthor (Michael Rosenbaum), who appeared dead in a plane crash, survived, but he's going all Lord of the Flies on a deserted island.

I'm willing to give the producers some rope in hopes that these unfortunate plot turns will lead to something interesting eventually, but so far, it's a tad preposterous, even by fantasy show standards. Pa Kent (John Schneider) somehow has a conversation through time and space with Clark's biological father and ends up going mano a mano with his adopted son.

Not that "Smallville" shouldn't be allowed to take risks, but the joy of the show is its homespun, sometimes cornpone depiction of Kent family life. Seeing Clark go bad, the farm go down the toilet and Papa Kent giving his son a spanking, well, it just seems so unlike this usually upbeat, winning series.

'Angel'

 
 
"Angel"

When: 9 tonight on The WB.

Starring: David Boreanaz

   
 

With "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" canceled, The WB's "Angel' remains the only place for fans to get a weekly dose of creator Joss Whedon's brand of storytelling. And with his attention no longer divided by multiple TV series, "Angel" returns in strong creative shape.

Last season's darkness has lifted and humor again has a central place on "Angel." Now Angel (David Boreanaz) and his team are trying to do good from inside the belly of the beast, having taken over the Los Angeles branch of evil law firm Wolfram & Hart. A new character, the sassy Eve (Sarah Thompson), is introduced as a new conduit between Angel and the unseen senior partners. Most importantly to "Buffy" fans, that other vampire, Spike (James Marsters), joins the cast, materializing at the end of tonight's season premiere.

Oh, and Angel's new secretary? It's Harmony (Mercedes McNab), a ditzy vamp who's appeared on both "Buffy" and "Angel" in the past. She fills the comic relief role once occupied by Cordelia, who's apparently in a never-ending coma (star Charisma Carpenter has been dropped from the cast).

For Angel, working for an evil law firm will take some getting used to. Tonight he saves a girl only to have a special-ops patrol show up, complete with publicists and a woman who demands the damsel in distress sign away her rights.

"I need you to initial here concerning your immortal soul," the efficient woman says, clipboard and pen in hand.

When Angel tries to make a call, he winds up in Wolfram & Hart voicemail hell. Figuratively and perhaps literally.

"You have reached ritual sacrifice; for goats, press 1," says a computerized voice. "To sacrifice a loved one or pet, press the pound key."

Whedon has changed the format of "Angel," promising more stand-alone stories and fewer serialized plots, but the first two episodes offer all the touchstone elements that can make series set in the Buffyverse so tremendously entertaining.


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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