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On the Tube: 'Luis' loaded with insult; 'Family' not so friendly

Friday, September 19, 2003

By Rob Owen, Post-Gazette TV Editor

What is it about this television season that made TV executives say, "I think what Americans want to watch in a sitcom is people taunting, disrespecting and insulting one another"?

Insult humor courses through the veins of Fox's "Luis" (8:30 tonight), an alleged comedy that provides few laughs. Luis Guzman trades his prestige as a big-screen character actor for mediocre scripts and the chance to star in a self-titled sitcom about an apartment building/doughnut shop owner in Spanish Harlem.

He trades insults with an elderly Irish tenant, his ex-wife (Diana-Maria Riva) and his daughter's boyfriend, Greg (Wes Ramsey), an artist with Fabio-like hair who looks as if he were a runner-up for the lead role in The WB's "Tarzan."

Luis worries Greg is taking advantage of his daughter, Marly (Jaclyn DeSantis), and razzes him about the guy's inability to earn a buck.

"When you sit around all day playing with paint, you're the slow kid in kindergarten," Luis says.

And in an odd mini-trend, "Luis" is the second show to feature a white character affecting an urban "black" accent ("Whoopi" did it, too). It's less outrageous (and less funny) here, but still a curiosity. Curiouser still is why anyone at Fox thought "Luis" would be enough to keep viewers tuned in on a Friday night.

'LIKE FAMILY'

Maddie (Diane Farr) and 16-year-old son Keith (J. Mack Slaughter) are white. Maddie's best friend, Tonya (Holly Robinson Peete), and her family are black. And The WB's "Like Family" (8:30 tonight on WCWB) never hesitates to make an obvious joke out of their differences.

Maddie and Keith move in with Tonya, husband Ed (Kevin Michael Richardson), teenager Danika (Megalyn Echikunwoke) and 12-year-old Bobby (B.J. Mitchell), because Maddie is worried Keith has been hanging with the wrong crowd.

It's a preposterous premise because Keith is the most well-mannered bad boy ever to appear on The WB. The worst Ed can muster is to call him a "fluffy-haired thorn in my side."

"Like Family" offers more laughs than "Luis," particularly in an upcoming episode sent for review, but tonight's premiere is bogged down with a dirty-talking grandpa (J. Anthony Brown), who speaks euphemistically about getting "female satisfaction." The show is called "Like Family," but it's not always family-friendly.

'K STREET'

HBO premiered its definition-defying latest drama Sunday night, and it's certainly an interesting effort.

Produced the week it airs in Washington, D.C., "K Street" (10 p.m. Sunday) follows the employees of a fictitious political lobbyist firm whose Washington office appears to be run by Republican Mary Matalin and Democrat James Carville, who appear as themselves.

The firm specializes in lobbying, public relations and crisis work and seems to be designed to take a bipartisan approach, working for elected officials from either major political party.

In the premiere, Carville couldn't resist the urge to spend some time prepping Vermont Gov. Howard Dean for the first debate among Democratic presidential candidates. Matalin objects, but Carville does it anyway with Dean appearing as himself.

"He's like a trained seal. You ring the bell, he runs," says Maggie Morris (Mary McCormack), another firm employee. She then has to go around Washington, assuring all the Republican clients that Carville is not consulting with Dean as an employee of the firm, but he's doing it on his own time.

She even gets a moment with Sen. Rick Santorum, who declares, "in the case of James Carville, insanity is a defense," before he asks her how Matalin and Carville manage to make their marriage work. "She took medication?"

"K Street" is probably a dream series for political science junkies. For the rest of us, it's smart and absorbing, if not yet altogether entertaining. It certainly bears watching to see how this experimental series evolves.

EMMYS

The 55th annual Emmy Awards will be broadcast Sunday at 8 p.m. on Fox. Does anyone care?

I know I'm supposed to care. After all, these are the awards honoring the best in television, a medium I have a genuine passion for. But I don't care about the Emmys this year for a simple reason: The nominees are virtually a repeat of years past. Few innovative shows will be recognized, just more pats on the back for the tried and true.

Where's the nomination for "The Shield" as best drama series? Or "Scrubs" as best comedy series?

Instead we get nominations for series that had uneven seasons at best, particularly Fox's "24" and NBC's "The West Wing." But they've been nominated before, so they got nominated again.

I'll be watching the Emmys because I have to, but my heart's just not in it.


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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