Kristen Baldwin rates ''Grapevine'' and four other mid-season replacements

By Kristen Baldwin
Updated February 14, 2000 at 05:00 AM EST

What to watch when Sweeps is over

TV viewers have it pretty good right now. It’s February sweeps, so networks are offering rerun-free schedules packed with guest stars (Jonathan Lipnicki on ”Dawson’s Creek”!), cliff-hangers (Kellie Martin bites the dust on ”ER”!) and movies so ill conceived (”Mary & Rhoda”) they’re as compelling as a car wreck. But take note, TV fans: the dreaded ”mid-season” — when networks dump their B-list series to placate us while all the shows we want to watch are in repeats — is right around the corner. Here’s a sampling of what to look for — and avoid.

Grapevine (CBS, Feb. 28th) The original version of this talk-to-the-camera comedy aired in 1992, but the confessional concept was just too ahead of its time. Now everybody’s breaking the forth wall on TV, so CBS is bringing ”Grapevine” back from the dead. Kristy Swanson (the big-screen ”Buffy the Vampire Slayer”) plays a matchmaking cruise line executive in Miami who, of course, just can’t find love of her own. Good thing she has a cute best friend (Stephen Eckholdt) to do the ”When Harry Met Sally…” thing with. While the humor is more droll than gut-busting, ”Grapevine” — judging by its pilot — is a rather well-written, engaging show. And it’s way too hip for CBS.

Titus (Fox, March 20) Keeping the spirit of ”Married…With Children” alive, Fox offers this foul-tempered comedy based on the extremely dysfunctional life of comedian Christopher Titus. His father (the brilliantly odious Stacy Keach) is a five-time-divorced drunk, his mom’s a manic depressive schizophrenic, and in the pilot, Titus and his brother Dave (Zack Ward) think Dad’s dead since he’s been in his room for four days without coming out for a beer. Frequent black and white interludes feature the comedian addressing the camera one-man-show style. It’s not nearly as annoying as it sounds; Titus delivers his material with a ferocity and conviction that makes the device work.

The Beat (UPN, March 21) First, the bad news: It’s another cop drama. Now the good news: It’s from ”Homicide” creator Tom Fontana. ”The Beat” focuses on two good-looking partners, Zane (Mark Ruffalo) and Mike (Derek Cecil), who fight crime and have Seinfeldian arguments about things like what the proper name for the dot above the ”i” is called. There’s also on-the-street action, rookie-style screwups, and a weird gimmick: The characters’ personal lives appear on film while their on-duty time is shown on video. ”The Beat” may not be anything new, but it’s certainly the best drama UPN has ever aired — for what that’s worth.

Battery Park (NBC, March 23) The fact that ”Park” evolved from ”Sugar Hill” — a failed police-theme pilot starring Charlie Sheen — is perhaps the most interesting thing about it. Justin Louis plays a nice-guy New York City cop who attempts to run a decent precinct under the callous watch of his politically ambitious boss, played by Elizabeth Perkins. Producer Gary David Goldberg (the man behind ”Spin City”) infuses ”Park” with plenty of ”City”-esque pacing and ”walk with me” camera work, but he forgot to add the laughs.

D.C. (The WB, spring) A group of young guns brings untainted idealism and unnaturally perfect cheekbones to the nation’s capitol. Pros: It’s from ”Law & Order” guru Dick Wolf; it’s got the adorable Mark Paul-Gosselaar of ”Saved by the Bell” fame. Cons: It’s also got the incomprehensibly talentless Jacinda Barrett of ”The Real World: London” and ”Wind on Water” fame. Do you really need to know more?