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TV Review: 'Stan Hooper' worth more than a minute

Wednesday, October 29, 2003

By Rob Owen, Post-Gazette TV Editor

Now that the baseball season is over, Fox can get back to rolling out its new fall lineup, which includes the return of "The O.C." at 9 tonight, following the premiere of "A Minute With Stan Hooper."

Say this for "Stan Hooper": It's one of the few fall comedies that's not filled with put-down humor. This gentle throwback would feel more at home on CBS than on Fox. Similarities to CBS's "Newhart" aren't coincidental -- writer/director Barry Kemp worked on that show, too.

 
 
"A Minute with Stan Hooper"

When: 8:30 tonight on Fox.
Starring: Norm Macdonald
"Tru Calling"
When: 8 p.m. tomorrow on Fox.
Starring: Eliza Dushku

   
 

Norm Macdonald stars as Stan Hooper, who delivers a weekly commentary on the fictional newsmagazine "Newsline." He and his too-perky wife Molly, (Penelope Ann Miller), move to Waterford Falls, Wis., so Stan can be more in touch with the "vanishing America."

Naturally, all his notions of small-town life are upended by the colorful characters he meets, including the Peterson boys, who run the local diner, and the town cheese magnate, Fred Hawkins (Fred Willard), who disapproves of son Ryan (Eric Lively) and his romance with local waitress Chelsea (Reagan Dale Neis).

"The boy shouldn't be with someone who serves cheese," Fred Hawkins says, "he should be with someone who comes from cheese, who is comfortable with the things cheese can buy."

Macdonald's brand of acerbic wit has always been an acquired taste. As someone who's appreciated it in the past, it's somewhat disappointing to see him play the straight man here. But he still gets to give his patented, flustered reactions to the wackiness that surrounds him.

The show may just have a gem of a relationship between Stan and Gary (Brian Howe), the gruff butler who comes with the house the Hoopers rent. Gary is determined to fulfill his duties and barks at Stan when he dares to answer the front door.

"A Minute With Stan Hooper" wavers between amusing moments and big guffaws. It's still a work in progress, but just a minute with Stan is less painful and more funny than a half-hour spent watching "Luis," "Coupling," "Whoopi" and any number of sorry new sitcoms that debuted this fall.

'Tru Calling'

Another Fox premiere comes tomorrow at 8 p.m. with "Tru Calling," which mixes elements of "Groundhog Day," "Early Edition" and "Run Lola Run" to no good end.

Eliza Dushku -- Faith the vampire slayer to fans of "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" -- brings her sullen demeanor (slightly less sullen than Faith, but not much) to this new series as Tru Davies, a recent college grad preparing for medical school by working in a morgue.

But there's a hitch. Unlike other morgue employees, Tru hears dead people. Specifically, she hears those who died of unnatural causes mutter, "Help me." Then she's propelled back in time to the day before and she tries to prevent their deaths, doing a good deed while reducing her workload at the same time.

Tru gets a good workout, too, because she always seems to be running in this redundant, uninvolving show that breaks into a sprint every now and again for fast-paced, tightly edited, speeding-through-time special effects shots.

It's possible Tru's unique talent stems from the death of her mother, who was murdered when she was a girl. Tru is tight with her brother Harrison (Shawn Reaves), who has a gambling problem. She's not as close to her sister, Meredith (Jessica Collins), who has a nasty coke habit.

The Davies family saga is even less interesting than the time-tripping efforts to save random strangers. But those plots are pretty obvious with the "twist" -- the woman's killer isn't the obvious guy, it's the other guy! -- telegraphing itself long before Tru catches on.

More interesting is Tru's morgue co-worker, Davis (Zach Galifianakis), who's sort of creepy, but would probably be more willing to believe the predicament Tru finds herself in than anyone else if she ever thought to share it with him.

Playing Faith, a troubled vampire slayer who wasn't always on the side of right, Dushku seemed in her element and well-suited to the part. Requisite toughness aside, Tru could be played by any number of actresses. She's not an interesting character aside from her time-traveling, which gets old halfway through tomorrow's premiere.

Not that this series is destined to last. "Tru" will call only the most die-hard Dushku fans away from NBC's and CBS's highly rated Thursday night lineups.


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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