A guide to notable programs by Bruce Fretts. (Times are Eastern daylight and are subject to change.)
Issue No. 1: Capital punishment — pro or con? That debate splits the assistant DAs on Law & Order (NBC, Oct. 18, 10-11 p.m.). After a narcotics agent is killed, McCoy (Sam Waterston) and Kincaid (Jill Hennessy) clash over whether to push for New York’s reinstated death penalty. The X-Files (Fox, Oct. 20, 9-10 p.m.) takes a spookier look at the topic: Mulder (David Duchovny) and Scully (Gillian Anderson) investigate the case of an executed prisoner (Badja Djola) seeking revenge from beyond the grave. Maybe Mulder and Scully can solve the mysterious disappearances over the last five seasons of six Law & Order cast members.
Speaking of shows with high turnover rates, Ellen (ABC, Oct. 18, 8-8:30 p.m.) and Chicago Hope (CBS, Oct. 23, 10-11 p.m.) continue to tinker with their rosters. The last remaining original pal from These Friends of Mine (Ellen‘s old title) takes a hike as Adam (Arye Gross) immigrates to England for ”an exciting job opportunity.” And helping ease the imminent departure of Mandy Patinkin’s Dr. Jeffrey Geiger, Jamey Sheridan (Shannon’s Deal) joins Hope as OB-gyn John Sutton. His first case: an emergency delivery performed during an injury-inducing storm. Sounds like Hope is cribbing from old episodes of ER.
It’s kitsch as kitsch can when three aging slices of pop-culture cheese show up on The Naked Truth (ABC, Oct. 18, 9:30-10 p.m.), New York News (CBS, Oct. 19, 9-10 p.m.), and Roseanne (ABC, Oct. 17, 8-8:30 p.m.). Confetti-throwing ex-Gong Show judge Rip Taylor plays a sitcom star pursued by tabloid reporter Nora Wilde (Tea Leoni) on Truth. Meanwhile, News hound Nan Chase (Madeline Kahn) lunches with tulip-tiptoeing ex-Tonight Show groom Tiny Tim (the non-kitschy Gloria Steinem also pops up in this episode). And vest-wearing ex-One Day At a Time costar Pat Harrington pays a visit to Lanford, Ill., to sign autographs at an eatery opening across the street from Roseanne‘s Lunch Box. Screw Tim Taylor — Schneider was the original Tool Man. Next week on Roseanne: Shecky Greene!
Eartha Kitt is everywhere. After appearing in the Isaac Mizrahi documentary Unzipped and on a recent New York Undercover, the onetime TV Catwoman lands on Living Single (Fox, Oct. 19, 8-8:30 p.m.) as a slinky actress who tries to seduce Kyle (T.C. Carson). Another Unzipped diva, Naomi Campbell, continues her six-episode stint on New York Undercover (Fox, Oct. 19, 9-10 p.m.) as Simone, a sexy literary editor who puts the moves on J.C. (Malik Yoba). The supermodel allegedly wrote a novel, Swan, so the casting isn’t that far-fetched.
Is there a busier TV character actor than Paul Dooley? He’s Brett Butler’s blase boss on Grace Under Fire, Brian Benben’s gay dad on Dream On, and now he checks into ER (NBC, Oct. 19, 10-11 p.m.) as the unsympathetic father to whom Dr. Susan Lewis (Sherry Stringfield) turns after her AWOL sister Chloe (Kathleen Wilhoite) abandons her baby. Valerie Perrine reprises her role as Lewis’ tactless mom (she first appeared in last season’s ”Motherhood” episode, directed by Quentin Tarantino). Where will Dooley turn up next? We haven’t seen The Single Guy‘s pop yet…
It’s a whole new Homicide: Life on the Street (NBC, Oct. 20, 10-11 p.m.). Gone are Ned Beatty (yeah!) and Daniel Baldwin (boo!); joining the cast is Reed Diamond as a deep-dimpled arson detective—a hotshot who, of course, gets on everyone’s nerves. Fortunately, the nerves he gets on the most belong to Andre Braugher’s Pembleton, and it’s a joy to see the stoic Pembleton so rattled. Wobbly in plot but high on acting quality, sped up in pace to make it the ER of cop shows, and running for its life against 20/20 and American Gothic, Homicide still kills.
One great virtue of the Prime Suspect series, led by the wonderfully commanding performance of Helen Mirren as British police detective Jane Tennison, has been its emotional restraint. But the fourth entry, Prime Suspect: The Lost Child (PBS, check local listings), is disappointingly melodramatic. Tennison is after the kidnapper of a 14-month-old baby girl, and the vulnerability of the child gets to her—she’s shaken by the crime, which, as this thriller proceeds, only becomes more monstrous. The Lost Child was undoubtedly intended to humanize the forbidding Tennison, but Mirren had already done that in a much subtler way. No Prime Suspect is without its great pleasures, but this one is a tad too overheated to be completely satisfying.
How much do we adore Joel Hodgson? Enough to plug even his most minor scribblings—such as this week’s edition of Space Ghost Coast to Coast (The Cartoon Network, Oct. 20, 11-11:15 p.m.), the loopy, half-animated 15-minute talk show. Hodgson, of course, is the beloved creator of Mystery Science Theater 3000 who disappeared from the tube two years ago at the height of MSTie mania. Now he’s resurfaced to cowrite a Space Ghost episode with former Newhart scribe Nell Scovell (who was partly responsible for that show’s brilliant Suzanne Pleshette finale). Was it worth the wait? Guests Matthew Sweet and Catherine Bach aren’t exactly a laugh riot, but we do get a neat peek at Zorak’s home planet (where he’s returned to mate). Bottom line: Any Joel is better than none.
Jeff Fahey’s underrated action series, The Marshal (ABC, Oct. 21, 10-11 p.m.), has been shooting blanks in its new Monday slot. So ABC is re-airing The Marshal‘s second season premiere in its old Saturday home, where CBS’ Walker, Texas Ranger has been riding roughshod, with no competition for male viewers. It seems trouble follows Fahey’s Winston MacBride wherever he goes; even a quick trip to the market for macaroni and cheese turns into a hostage standoff with a trio of bumbling thieves (one of whom is played by Pruitt Taylor Vince, Paul Newman’s buddy in Nobody’s Fool). The show’s sly wit is evident in the episode’s title: “Buy Hard.”