Sitcoms have never been Steven Bochco’s strong suit (Q.E.D. Doogie Howser, M.D.), and Public Morals is no exception. Cocreated with Jay Tarses (who specializes in shows critics love but people hate, like Buffalo Bill and The Days and Nights of Molly Dodd), it’s a raunchy, real-life look at cops — in this case, a New York City vice squad. But what could have been a comedic NYPD Blue ends up playing like a low-rent Barney Miller.
And therein lies the problem. Unlike Miller, Morals lacks a galvanizingly humane central character like Hal Linden’s Barney to hold the show together. What Morals does offer is a squad room of oddballs, some ballsy, others just odd. On the plus side: Bill Brochtrup, reprising his NYPD role as gay administrative assistant John Irvin and adding a touch of gentle humor to the otherwise crass proceedings; Peter Gerety as a world-weary lieutenant who seems to have wandered in out of Fox’s underrated 1993-94 cop-com Bakersfield P.D.; and tough cookie Julianne Christie, who somehow manages to maintain her dignity even when delivering crappy lines like ”This relationship has been in the toilet for months — I say it’s time to flush!” On the minus side: George Clooney clone Justin Louis as the office lothario; Eriq La Salle wannabe Joseph Latimore as an uptight buppie; and Matt LeBlanc manque Larry Romano as the token dumb guy. Worst of all is Donal Logue as the piggiest (in both body and mind) of the cops. Better known as greasy cabdriver Jimmy from MTV’s promos, Logue is best taken in small doses. Compared with its sitcom competition, Morals fares better than Men Behaving Badly, but Drew Carey’s certainly got nothing to worry about. C