A Mid-Season Night’s Dream

Starting off, there are a couple of mid-season series to address:

Providence. Don’t do it. NBC’s new drama has been on for a mere two weeks (Fri., 8 PM), and is already proving emotionally manipulative in a way ER never dreamed.

Basic premise: In the aftermath of her mother’s death–which, incidentally, we witness in the first episode–Beverly Hills plastic surgeon Sydney Hansen (Melina Kanakaredes) returns home to Providence, R.I., to care for her sweetly dysfunctional family and practice real medicine in the local clinic. In the first three episodes alone, viewers are subjected to two deaths, an aborted wedding, an at-home birth, a wake, and the main character’s discovering her boyfriend in the shower with another man. Compounding the emotional exploitation, Syd’s dad (Mike Farrell) is a veterinarian, so every time the show’s tear-jerk quotient threatens to dip below critical mass, viewers are confronted by sick, injured, and dying puppies.

Content aside, Providence also has a few “artistic” problems. The show is positively lousy with long, lingering, dreamy shots of Kanakaredes’ face. Since she’s unquestionably beautiful to behold, a little visual indulgence can perhaps be forgiven. What cannot be forgiven, however, is her hideous, sing-song voice-over–too perky and heartwarming by half.

Even more cutesy and annoying, we are periodically inserted into Syd’s dream life, most of which revolves around her bickering with her dead mother and making out with this guy she had a crush on in high school who is now a local limo driver. It’s reminiscent of Ally McBeal’s peeks into characters’ inner thoughts–but without the special effects or originality.

Thursday at 9 PM is the premiere of CBS’s new series Turks . Yet another variation on the ever-popular cop drama, the show follows the trials and tribulations of an entire family of Chicago policemen. (Sadly, this means we have to sit through the characters’ tedious personal dramas as well as their professional ones.)

The plot lines aren’t particularly surprising or clever, but the dialogue is sharper and wittier than average and William Devane (of Knot’s Landing fame) is particularly appealing as the family patriarch, Sgt. Joe Turk. Those show’s defining feature, however, is its overabundance of male bonding: A single episode offers multiple sessions of father-son bonding, brother-brother bonding, cop-cop bonding, and so on. Thus far, the only women around fall into two categories–docile, wait-at-home wives and single career-gals looking to bag one of the boys in blue. (There is nary a female cop to be found.) Perhaps as a sop to female viewers, the cast includes a fair helping of Gillette jaws and cute butts. Nonetheless, I’m sticking with Frasier.

Moving right along, Sunday night’s movie scene looks good–The Fugitive (NBC, 8 PM) vs. Dead Man Walking (CBS, 9 PM)–but after that, the pickings get decidedly slimmer. Thank god for Lonesome Dove (Family Channel, Mon.-Thur., 9 PM). Based on the Pulitzer-Prize winning novel by Larry McMurtry, this 1989 miniseries follows the trail of two former Texas rangers driving a herd of cattle from the Mexican border up to Montana. Tommy Lee Jones and Robert Duvall are flat-out brilliant in the lead roles, backed by a strong supporting cast featuring Angelica Huston, Diane Lane, Danny Glover, and Rick Schroder.

Speaking of Little Ricky, if you’re having trouble adjusting to the idea of Schroder starring as the hot new stud on NYPD Blue, you may want to catch a few minutes of his MFTV movie this week, What We Did That Night (ABC, 9 PM, Mon.). The movie itself is dreadful–a white-washed blend of Cape Fear and I Know What You Did LastSummer, with a truly annoying gotcha ending. Schroder, however, gives a convincing performance as the creepy bad guy who lures all of his former frat brothers back to the scene of their youthful crime. He can’t save the movie, but he definitely livens it up.

By far the oddest offering of the week is A&E’s Unmentionables: A Brief History (Sun., 9 PM). A two-hour look at the evolution of underwear, the special is as silly as it sounds. The history of the myriad painful fads women have subjected themselves to over the years–iron maidens, rubber girdles, breast binding–may help remind viewers what all that ‘60s bra-burning was about. For the most part, however, listening to lingerie designers ramble insipidly about the form, function, and sensuousness of undies makes one suspect that the special was conceived largely as an excuse to show shot after shot of scantily clad breast, buns, and crotches.

It’s kind of a thinking-man’s Baywatch.

Michelle Cottle