Don't watch bad television: EW's TV critics rate 'Providence,' 'Dilbert,' and the other mid-season replacements

By Josh Wolk
January 12, 1999 at 05:00 AM EST
Chris Haston

If at first you don’t succeed, program, program again. Most of the fall premieres were largely a disaster and are already gone, but now the networks are tossing out a new batch of mid-season replacements. EW’s TV critics tell you which new shows are worth catching and which will be gone in time for the summer replacements.

Providence This drama about an L.A. plastic surgeon (Melina Kanakaredes) returning to work in her hometown is brought to you by a producer of “Touched by an Angel.” “It’s very much in ‘Angel”s sentimental, uplifting mode, without much substance to it,” says EW’s Ken Tucker. “The lead actress is such an unblemished saint that there’s no friction to the show. It’s slow and sludgy.” “Providence” may have debuted Friday with an impressive 13.1 rating (12.8 million homes) thanks to NBC’s relentless promotion, but, says Tucker, “I doubt that people who saw the pilot will come back to it.” (NBC; Fridays at 8 p.m.)

It’s Like You Know… This show has been described as the L.A. version of “Seinfeld” and is created by Pete Melhman, one of Jerry’s ex-writers. “It applies the same ‘Seinfeld’ formula of a lot of wordplay and cynical humor to a different coast,” says EW’s Bruce Fretts, who says this “fresh” sitcom should find a broad audience. The appealing cast includes “The Last Days of Disco”‘s Chris Eigeman and “Dirty Dancing”‘s Jennifer Grey as herself. (Grey lives next door to one of the protagonists.) “It would seem like a one-joke gimmick,” says Fretts, “but they actually make it work.” (ABC; premieres Wednesday, March 25, 8:30 p.m.)

Dilbert Larry Charles, another “Seinfeld” alumnus, teams with cartoonist Scott Adams to bring his popular office drone to TV, with Daniel Stern providing the animated nerd’s voice. The show is extremely faithful to the spirit of the strip, says Tucker, which “will please fans, but I thought it was a lot of lame office jokes. This show is only for people who tack up Dilbert cartoons on their refrigerator…which there are millions of, so maybe it’ll be a big hit.” (UPN; premieres Monday, Jan. 25, 8 p.m.)

Family Guy Fox’s latest animated sitcom is another in the list of recent cartoons with characters talking trash that would make Felix the Cat blush. The action centers around a dysfunctional family, complete with an evil baby named Stewie who is bent on world domination. “It’s obviously a rip-off of ‘King of the Hill’ and ‘South Park,'” says Fretts. “But that doesn’t mean it won’t be a huge hit.” (Fox; sneak preview after the Super Bowl, Jan. 31. Regular time slot TBA in March)

Zoe, Duncan, Jack & Jane The WB usually tosses its teen characters into one-hour dramas, but now it’s putting them in a sitcom about four adolescent pals in New York City. “‘Zoe’ tries to be ‘Seinfeld’-esque, but with teenagers, and it doesn’t do it very well,” says Fretts. “This is more like a TGIF-goes-to-Manhattan show, with a not particularly appealing young cast and not particularly fresh humor.” (WB; premieres Sunday, Jan. 17, at 9 p.m.)

The PJs Eddie Murphy cocreated and has the lead voice in this animated comedy about a loudmouthed super in a housing project. “The show has a distinctive, original look. I just wish it were funnier,” says Tucker. “Here’s a show about ghetto life and it barely touches on conditions in the inner city. Given that the mind behind this is Eddie Murphy’s, you’d think there would be some pretty sharp satire, and it’s just not there.” (Fox; Tuesdays at 8:30 p.m.)

Lateline Al Franken’s sitcom about life behind-the-scenes at a “Nightline”-style news show returned last week after a six-episode run last spring. “I was not a fan of it last season, and it’s gotten even worse this season,” says Fretts. “It’s just another bad ‘Mary Tyler Moore’/’Murphy Brown’ copy, which with each generation seems to be less and less like the original.” (NBC; Wednesdays at 9 p.m.)

Turks William Devane is the head of a family of Chicago cops in this one-hour drama that is taking on Must See TV. “It’s pretty bland stuff, but CBS has done well with really bland stuff (‘Promised Land’ and ‘Diagnosis Murder’) when going against the NBC lineup,” says Fretts. “It might work for that older audience that just wants something very safe and comfortable.” (CBS; premieres Thursday, Jan. 21 at 9 p.m.)

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