Television

New shows really won't be with us until the fall so mostly it's re-run time, except for cable. So I'll go over my list of current offerings, with my praises and passes.

Ally McBeal, a Fox offering on broadcast channels, created by David E. Kelley (L.A. Law, Chicago Hope, Picket Fences and the brand new Boston Public) filled with dysfunctional lawyers and quirky plots. On my don't miss list. Recent guest star semi-regulars have included Robert Downey, Jr. (one of the best living actors in show business) and Anne Hech (another great actor, who plays a woman with Tourette's syndrome, which causes her to make wild arm gestures and strange noises). This show regularly wins Emmy nominations, with Peter MacNicol (an outstanding comedic character actor featured in the motion pictures Ghostbusters 2 and Addams Family Values) usually getting one (and sometimes winning) for his supporting role as one of the senior partners (also having a Tourette's like condition). Most of the scripts this year (and in some previous years) are written by Kelley who is famous for setting you up for one thing and unraveling it to another by the end of the show. The show stars Calista Flockhart, Peter MacNicol, Portia DeRossi, Jane Krakowski, Greg Germann, James le Gros, Lisa Nicole Carson, Lucy Liu and Vonda Shepard (who sings most of the songs heard on the show). Now in its fourth season.

Stargate SG-1. The new season premier is on June 29 at 10 PM on Showtime. Since it's part two of a cliff-hanger from last season you should tune in a week early to see the repeat of last season's finale just to catch up on what is happening... (Episodes from previous years are also airing on broadcast television.) An M-G-M offering based on the hit movie (from the director and producer of Independence Day and Godzilla) which is an outstanding vehicle for Richard Dean Anderson (formerly of MacGyver). The Stargate is a connection between planets created by imperialistic aliens centuries ago (used to enslave humans and other "lower" and "weaker" species from other worlds). The Stargate people are now leading an effort against them, going from world to world enlisting cultures to join in the fight against the alien aggressors. It's a witty show blending Indiana Jones type of adventure and intrigue, with Star Trek or Outer Limits type sci-fi. Excellent cast including Don S. Davis, Christopher Judge, Michael Shanks, Amanda Tapping and Teryl Rothery. This year the show got a big boost from Peter DeLuise who came on board as a consultant, writing and directing many episodes. They have also introduced Vanessa Angel (remember her from the TV series Weird Science?) as Anise, a friendly, yet somewhat adversarial, alien who has been making recurring appearances. One of Showtime's most popular and financially successful original TV series.

Sex in the City. This one's from HBO and the material is so sexually strong it may never make it to broadcast TV without serious alternate takes or editing. One of the funniest shows on TV, starring Sarah Jessica Parker, Kim Catrall, Cynthia Nixon and Kristin Davis. The exploits of NY newspaper columnist Carrie Bradshaw, who writes a regular Big Apple newspaper feature called "Sex in the City." This fictional column is all about the intimate habits of New Yorkers. Carrie culls the material from her own experiences or those of her closest friends (Charlotte, Samantha and Miranda), who are all professional people (lawyers, managers, etc.) trying to find Mr. Right among a city of losers. Excellent writing and outstanding casting. On most peoples' "must watch" list. Multi-Emmy nominated show. Filmed on location in NYC.

The Sopranos. Also from HBO. A bunch of good fellows from New Jersey with Italian names and tough talk. A mob guy and his shrink. Godmothers who go after their own children. Daughters experimenting with drugs. Fighting between members of the family for control of the turf. You know, your typical, just another boring day type stuff! Outstanding writing (from creator David Chase and others). Excellent acting from a large ensemble cast (James Gandolfini, Edie Falco, Lorraine Bracco, Dominic Chianese, Michael Imperioli, Jamie-Lynn Sigler, Robert Iler among many others). Filmed on location. This show could end up on broadcast next year with just a little editing of the violence. Nominated big time for Emmy awards this last year and the year prior.

Friends. Currently one of the longest running and funnies sitcoms on broadcast (NBC-TV), with a great ensemble cast (Jennifer Aniston, Courteney Cox, Lisa Kudrow, Matt LeBlanc, Matthew Perry and David Schwimmer) and a large following of viewers. Now also being shown in syndication on local TV stations with re-runs of episodes from the first few years.

-- NBC Photo: Jon Ragel

La Femme Nikita. From USA Networks. Their premier show. Now in re-run on USA (a basic cable service in most areas) with episodes running back to back from the last five years. A very cutting-edge show, much like Miami Vice and the Equalizer were a few years back on broadcast. Based on the French film of the same name (which was re-made in the U.S. with Bridget Fonda under the title Point of No Return) about a highly secretive anti-terrorist network licensed to kill. Nikita is the only one in the organization with pure heart and soul. She balances out the cold brutality of their daily business. Excellent music from Mark Snow (who also does the X-Files). Outstanding cast (Peta Wilson as Nikita, Roy Dupuis as Michael, her mentor/love interest, Eugene Robert Glazer as 'Operations' - the man who runs the section with an iron hand -- Alberta Watson as Madeline, head strategist for Section One, Don Francks as Walter, who equips the operatives with whatever they need to do the job and Matthew Ferguson as Birkoff, the computer geek who monitors their covert operations providing tactical support). Dazzling visuals. If you like James Bond type movies you should check this one out! This show may be syndicated to local TV. Some outstanding scripts by major television writer-producers including a first season episode called "War" by Star Trek and Kung-Fu, The Legend Continues veteran, Maurice Hurley. In the last season Nowhere Man creator Lawrence Hertzog wrote many excellent scripts for Nikita as a consultant for the show.

Law and Order. Producer Dick Wolf's hot hit. Renewed by NBC for the next few years! A well written and acted formula Cop and DA show tackling tough issues from real life newspaper stories. Older episodes are in syndication on A & E (may be switching to one of the Turner stations). We see the crime. We see how the detectives solve it and the District Attorney prosecutes it. The good guys don't always win in this show. One of the best pat formula shows on broadcast with an outstanding theme song by Mike Post (whose credits include Hill Street Blues and Rockford Files) featuring a highly melodic pluck bass riff. Alumni in syndicated episodes include: Michael Moriarty, Benjamin Brat, Carey Lowell, Steven Hill, Richard Brooks, Paul Sorvino, Jill Hennessy, Dann Floreck, Chris North, George Dzundza and in the pilot episode Roy Thinnes.

Pictured: (l-r) S. Epatha Merkerson, Jerry Orbach, Dianne Wiest, Jesse L. Martin, Angie Harmon, Sam Waterston -- NBC Photo: Kevin Foley

Farscape. On cable. The Sci-Fi channel, which I used to watch, but I don't get anymore up in the mountains where I now live. This show is from The Jim Henson Company. It's about an American Astronaut trapped in a galaxy far, far away on a strange ship with a group of renegade aliens who are being chased by a bunch of evil aliens. Not all that bad of a show. Not for everyone. Extremely "escapist" entertainment. Not pure sci-fi like some Star Trek or Outer Limits episodes, but worthy of a look. It's the Sci-Fi channels premier original series.

Dark Angel. On Fox. Premier vehicle for Jessica Alba, who (as just about every guy agrees) is the hottest new girl on the block. The show is very inconsistent. They restricted themselves by, for example, putting Logan into a wheel chair and by basing the premise on Max finding her "siblings" -- all of whom were found by episode five! Now the producers seem to be floundering a bit, trying to find the way out of the premise trap by trial and error. The show is also very reminiscent of a UPN recurring movie sequel known as Chameleon in that its star is female, she's genetically enhanced with strong fighting abilities, super hearing, super sight, super senses, likes to drive a motorcycle, and has a serious attitude problem. That's where the similarities end. It's worth checking out just to see the charismatic Alba smile. She's at her best when mixing wits with her nemesis, Lydecker (played by John Savage), the military man who trained her (he began as an incidental character but is being used more and more in the series, but not in every episode, which is good as that would simply create another rut for the producers who are desperately trying to fix a formula for the show to use week after week). Also, the recent appearances of Nana Visitor as the evil head honcho (and the only person Lydecker seems to fear) is a very nice touch. For me, the show really needs to capitalize more on Alba's fighting abilities (like they do on the show Kung Fu) and keep up the very good sub plots (which occasionally get weak and add to the inconsistencies) These fight sequences are very similar to those far-out ones in the movie The Matrix. I'd also like to see her climb out of her black outfits and into something more colorful every now and then. Clothes fit Alba like a second skin and she takes on the personality of whatever her character is wearing. If the show makes it to next year they may hit a formula that really works and keeps the ratings up (right now Fox is putting other shows in the slot every other week, which is not a good sign). I, like most others, watch the show just to see Alba, who can hold your attention while reading out of the phone book. One of the rare U.S. shows shot in Vancouver, Canada (usually Canadian made shows, such as Stargate and Outer Limits, are filmed in Toronto).

The West Wing. I've only seen a few episodes, but this show on NBC broadcast TV is great. Well written, well acted, with a great cast and concept. The staff of the President of the United States, with Martin Sheen as President. Probably influenced to a degree by the Rob Reiner movie The American President (which featured Sheen as the Chief of Staff). The business of "running the country" from inside the West Wing of the White House. Using the Hill Street Blues and St. Elsewhere large ensemble cast formula. Outstanding show!

Pictured: Martin Sheen as President Josiah Bartlet -- NBC Photo: David Rose

Special Unit 2 Brand new on UPN stations. This show is played just for laughs and they know it. It's all about an elite detachment of the Chicago Police Department that deals specifically with supernatural monsters. Mummys, gnomes, links, you name it. If it's a monster it'll be in the show eventually. The heroes are Detectives Kate Benson and Nick O'Malley assisted by a little guy (gnome) who likes to hold up mini-marts (the SU2 cops look the other way at his little transgressions). The boss is Captain Richard Page. Ace writer Joel Surnow (Seaquest DSV, Nowhere Man and La Femme Nikita) is a consultant on the show. So far I've really liked what I've seen. The producers have this show wired (although they should, it's heavily borrowed from similar projects like Men In Black, The Night Stalker and Good Vs. Evil) and the actors look like they are having fun (especially Carl, the gnome). Total escapist entertainment. Check it out! It's on just before Voyager on many UPN stations taking the time slot of Seven Days, which has moved to Tuesdays. (Check your local listings for exact time and date for these shows.)

Shows I really can't get into, even though I've tried, include The Pretender from the Turner Broadcasting people on cable. Boston Public, from David Kelley on Fox and I usually like his shows, but I also can't get into Chicago Hope, which is another Kelley product. I have also not been able to get into the infamous E.R. (largely because I created a much better show concept that one of the networks held onto for 8 months before rejecting). There is still no credible Doctor show on TV and anyone who has been in a real E.R. or hospital knows I speak the truth! Also I simply cannot get into another premier HBO show, Oz, which wins Emmys. It's about life in an experimental heavy duty prison starring Ernie Hudson (Ghostbusters I & II, The Substitute and Congo). That one's probably just me. You should check it out and see what you think, for it gets a great buzz among the other critics.

The show I'm looking forward to seeing: The next Star Trek incarnate from UPN Paramount. Oh, yes, I am a sci-fi nut! I watch even bad sci-fi. Started when I was a young kid. My mother worked at Folletts Publishing in Chicago and brought home "Elevator to the Moon" when I was five years old. She read it to me. Inspired me to write my first book, a documentary sci-fi which I entered into the school talent festival later in life (it got panned by the critics). So you will see me showcase a lot of sci-fi. And speaking of Star Trek the current effort is coming to a close in the month of May after many years of 'boldly going where no one has gone before.' The last episode should be airing on most UPN stations around May 22 (consult your local listing for exact date and time). Producer and Paramount executive Rick Berman has been doing a great job carrying on the Gene Roddenberry legacy. He helped bring forth some excellent writer-producers like Michael Pillar, Brandon Braga and Ronald D. Moore. He was instrumental in giving us a black man in charge (Deep Space Nine) and a woman in charge ( Voyager -- and I was sad his original choice of Genevieve Bujold didn't work out, I really wanted to see her as Captain, especially one who wouldn't always charge into battle rattling a saber). My favorite Treksters include Quark and the Doctor. I don't know what I'm going to do on Wednesday nights anymore!

TV Movies you should not miss if they play on broadcast or again on cable: Dirty Pictures. Based on a true story of an attempt to shut down a gallery exhibition of photographs because they include explicit sexual poses and pictures of under age children who are photographed naked. An essay on censorship starring James Woods. Also from Woods and Showtime Indictment the true story of the McMartin pre-school sex scandal that wasn't. This movie will leave you talking over coffee at Starbucks.


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Broadcast movie you should check out when it comes around. Contact. Based on the novel by noted Cornell University astronomer the late Carl Sagan (creator of the PBS mini-series Cosmos). Also starring James Woods with Jody Foster in the lead role as a SETI (Search for Extra Terrestrial Intelligence) scientist who makes contact with aliens off in distant space and the journey to meet them. Excellent, credible script that covers all bases from government secrets to religion, to agnostic, to scientist, to sci-fi lover. No car chases or little green men. May be a little to dry for some viewers. It was a theatrical feature that showed this last year on cable.

--E.R.D.



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