Deaf, dumb, and blindsided: The TV men we worry about -- From the hearing-impaired Gil on ''CSI'' to ''SNL'''s underused Tracy Morgan, here are four guys who could use some help

By Ken Tucker
May 09, 2003 at 12:00 PM EDT
William Petersen: Lorenzo Aguis; Tracy Morgan: Dana Edelson; Jeff Probst: Monty Brinton

Deaf, dumb, and blindsided: The TV men we worry about

Last week, we fretted over some TV Women We Worry About — personalities who seemed destined for disappointment, frustration, heartache. Striving to be an equal opportunity fretter, I furrowed my brow, chatted up EW staffers, and came up with some TV Men We Worry About, too.

GIL GRISSOM ON ”CSI” Well, right off the bat, you’ve got the going-deaf thing. If there’s one element so many of us liked about the first season of ”CSI,” it was the way the series was all about the…well, the crime scene investigation, just as its title says. Y’know, the process: scoping out the crime scene along with Grissom and his rubber-gloved, hard-boiled crew and following those cool special-effects shots that zoom up some victim’s nostril to see how the devil a bullet got lodged in the corpse’s adenoid or something.

But at the end of last season, William Petersen’s Gil was revealed to have inherited a family predisposition for hearing loss, and now it seems like every other episode contains at least one moment when Gil is talking to, say, Marg Helgenberger’s Catherine and the soundtrack goes all muzzy and garbled to simulate his ear malady. The problem with this subplot, obviously, is that either Gil’s condition has to worsen (thus endangering his job, which we know is all this workaholic lives for) or he has to be operated on in an uncharacteristically poignant episode: I dread the image of the cast assembled at his bedside, telling him how much he means to them — except all he hears is ”Mxpnd nrtwlof vivtiptyes, GIL!!”

Personally, I wish that the ”CSI” scribes would just write a quick scene in which Gil knocks the side of his head with his hand, gives his skull a vigorous shake, and says brightly, ”How ’bout that? It was just some water in my ear canal from swimming at that over-chlorinated YMCA pool! I can hear you guys as clear as a bell!” Then he could get on to the only other ”personal” story line we’d be interested in watching: Petersen’s oft-reported grudge against ”CSI: Miami,” played out in an episode in which Gil flies down to Florida and smacks David Caruso’s Horatio Caine so hard, he falls into a gator-infested swamp — and goes deaf.

TRACY MORGAN ON ”SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE” After a couple of seasons during which Morgan was allowed to take center stage with original creations like Brian Fellow, the exceedingly touchy, fey (non-Tina variety) host of an ”Animal Planet”-style zoology cable show, this charming performer is currently getting the usual treatment black men have received since the first days of Garrett Morris: He’s either pushed to the background as an extra or deployed as a trite Angry African American in sketches that seem to scream Written by White People. It was especially noticeable that when Bernie Mac hosted ”SNL” on April 5, Morgan was given even less to do than usual, since it’s so obvious that ”SNL” cannot figure out what to do with more than one black face on screen at a time. One hears that Morgan is peddling a fall-season pilot; let’s hope it’s good, and can be his ticket out of his current, increasingly stifling context.

DR. FRASIER CRANE ON ”FRASIER” Kelsey Grammer long ago established himself as one of the great character actors in TV history, and transitioning Frasier from ”Cheers” to ”Frasier” is a rare feat indeed. But this season, the writers have let Frasier — and the other characters — down. Does anyone care about Niles (David Hyde Pierce) and Daphne (Jane Leeves), the couple who are So Wrong for Each Other, anymore? And the series has brought in the marvelous Felicity Huffman as a bit of abrasive for the smooth-running radio station setting, but her acting in the role of a financial reporter has been squandered with wispy subplots such as her ongoing dislike of Peri Gilpin’s Roz. (Where’s the tension there? Who likes Roz, anyway?) I worry that Frasier Crane will play out his remaining days as a whining nincompoop rather than the brainy, proud, yet shrewdly neurotic comic creation that Grammer so beautifully assembled years ago from influences like Jack Benny and Bob Hope as well as his own precise snap with a punchline. That insinuating growl of a voice, by the way, that makes his work on ”Frasier” and ”The Simpsons” as Sideshow Bob so endlessly amusing also makes me worry about him lending his pipes to ”Gary the Rat,” an upcoming TNN — ‘scuse me, Spike TV — cartoon series. The short clip I saw leads me to fear further squandering of Grammer’s talents.

JEFF PROBST ON ”SURVIVOR” Why worry about a guy who does nothing but travel around the world lording over mewling sap-contestants while (I like to imagine) retiring to an air-conditioned tent to sip martinis and scarf flown-in caviar? Because poor Jeff has become the hollow vessel for lines he must recite, week after week — phrases like (regarding Food Challenges) ”Wanna know what you’re playin’ for?” and (in re the Immunity Idol) ”Give it up, [INSERT NAME OF STARVING, DEPRESSED PERSON].” Jeff — you must set yourself up with a truly cushy deal: a game show in a nice Hollywood studio, where you can be a more sinewy Pat Sajak, spinning your own wheel of fortune. Flee the clutches of ”Survivor”’s Mark Burnett, and call ”Wheel” creator Merv Griffin now, before it’s too late!