A guide to notable programs by BRUCE FRETTS. (Times are Eastern daylight and are subject to change.) SERIES
Carla Gugino’s been gone for only a week, and SPIN CITY (ABC, Tuesdays, 9:30-10 p.m.) has already become a better show. Not that we had anything against Gugino. It’s just that Michael J. Fox’s job as a deputy mayor has yielded much fresher material than his love life with Gugino ever did. (If we want a sitcom about an upscale Manhattan couple, we’ll watch Mad About You.) City has spun its best plots out of political topics like the same-sex-marriage debate and superstore zoning laws. And Fox’s coworkers have developed into a top-notch ensemble: Barry Bostwick as the not-as-clueless-as-he-seems mayor; Richard Kind as the even-more-clueless-than-he-seems press secretary; Alexander Gaberman as a naive speechwriter; Connie Britton as a single-gal accountant; Alan Ruck as the office jerk; and Michael Boatman as a nonstereotypical gay black activist. Plus, Gugino’s exit frees up Fox to sow his wild oats. In the Jan. 14 episode, Courtney Thorne-Smith plays Fox’s first post-breakup date. We’re guessing this relationship won’t last long — she needs to be back at Melrose Place by Monday.
Is this THE OUTER LIMITS (Showtime, Jan. 19, 8-9:30 p.m.) or Zalman King’s Red Shoe Diaries? The third-season premiere, ”Bits of Love,” feels more soft-core than sci-fi, as a nuclear-holocaust survivor (Jon Tenney) creates a holographic world in which he can have cybersex with virtual vixens. Among them is Natasha Henstridge, who’s become an expert in nonhuman behavior from playing an alien hybrid in Species — and costarring with Jean-Claude Van Damme in Maximum Risk. The stars’ nudity is painstakingly precise: Henstridge must have included a no-nipples clause in her contract, while Tenney bares only the top half of his butt. ”Bits” drags between the sex scenes, but it’s better than the other half of Limits’ two-part opener, ”Second Thoughts.” Howie Mandel stars as a grown man with the mind of a child (typecasting alert) who downloads the memories of a dying scientist (John Gilbert). With Mandel as the poor man’s Robin Williams, ”Thoughts” plays like a bad pilot for Jack: The Series.
Great dollops of bad taste at an expanded length for starved fanatics: Jennifer Saunders and Joanna Lumley star in ABSOLUTELY FABULOUS: THE LAST SHOUT (Comedy Central, Jan. 19, 8-10 p.m.), a feature-length, let’s-end-this-sucker-with-a-bang edition of their mad Britcom. The extra airtime gives Edina (Saunders) a chance to experience a vision of Marianne Faithfull as God, gives the indefatigably slutty Patsy a chance to attend a fashion show (after which, you’ll never look at runway glamour in quite the same way), and gets Saffron (Julia Sawalha) engaged to a young pig from an insufferably high-class family. Pats and Eddie are in great form — turns out that in a past life they were conjoined freak-show twins — even when the action occasionally stumbles. Guest stars include…Christian Lacroix, sweeties! (Note: The video version goes on sale two days after the TV airdate.)