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Goodbye "My So-Called Life"

St. Louis Post-Dispatch
January 28, 1995

Goodbye "My So-Called Life"

by Jane Stevenson, Canadian Press

IF COMEDIES are the pastry cart of television, dramas are the meatloaf - sometimes gourmet fare, sometimes hard to choke down, but in the main solid and satisfying. (News magazines, I think, are snack bars, with healthy stuff next to the nachos . . . but less tempting.) And this has been a good year for meatloaf. The networks, surprisingly, offered fall schedules heavy with dramas, and then showed patience even with the non-"ERs." Only "McKenna" and "Touched by an Angel" made early exits. "Chicago Hope" found success in a new time slot, and low-rated gems like "Homicide," "Party of Five" and "Under Suspicion" were allowed full runs.

But one of the best, "My So-Called Life," departed on Thursday, and only the most optimistic expect it back in the fall. (A renewal decision will come in May.) In return, ABC offers us two new dramas: "Extreme" and "The Marshall." "Extreme," which premieres Sunday night after the Super Bowl (about 9:15 on Channel 2) is blatantly "Baywatch," with James Brolin instead of David Hasselhoff, snow instead of sand, and ski suits instead of swimsuits - which pretty much kills the possibility of a repeat of the "Baywatch" phenomenon. Brolin plays the head of a mountain rescue unit, charged with saving "adrenaline junkies" who do incredibly stupid things like somersaulting, with skis and parachute, off a cliff. On his team are two babes, who seem to be excluded from the real rescue work, and three hunks. One babe (Julie Bowen) is a local girl who wants to be a doctor; the other (Brooke Langton) is a debutante fleeing the good life. The hunks are a sharp black helicopter pilot (Tom Wright); a would-be actor (Justin Lazar) so obnoxious you hope for an avalanche whenever he's around; and a nice guy (Cameron Bancroft) coming back from the climbing death of his best friend. Various rescues, all predictable, are orchestrated to an ear-splitting rock score. In between, the team members grapple with personal problems, all predictable. A subplot involves two dumb and dumber ski dudes who seem to have wandered in from a lame sitcom. "Extreme," which will air at 9 p.m. Saturdays beginning this week, has some nice scenery. But you have to wonder how such a high-altitude show could be so shallow. By contrast, "The Marshall," which gets a preview at 9 p.m. Tuesday on Channel 2 and then returns on Thursdays in late February, looks absolutely profound, with an intriguing premise, snappy writing and a charismatic star. Jeff Fahey plays Deputy U.S. Marshal Winston MacBride, a modern- day crime-fighter whose job takes him all over the country in search of fugitives. (It's a real job, apparently, but little-known and juiced up a bit for TV.) In the opening scenes of Tuesday night's episode, MacBride pops out of a snowbank to befuddle an escapee with a new twist on a "Dirty Harry" routine. Then he's off in search of a radical (Laura Johnson) wanted for murder and forced on the run again after two decades of a normal life. MacBride seldom does the predictable thing, and Fahey has a great time with the role, putting just the right wry spin on his lines, drawing us in with his twinkle. A second episode is even better than the first, but you won't see it for a while. Don't forget "The Marshall" in the meantime. The WB network also has a drama premiering Sunday night. "Pointman" (9 p.m. on Channel 11) stars Jack Scalia, whose acting makes James Brolin look like Sir Laurence Olivier. Scalia, as Connie (Connie?) Harper, flounders through "Pointman" with a goofy smile, appropriate since he probably doesn't understand the plot any better than I did. Unlike some series pilots, weighed down with exposition, "Pointman" doesn't even explain its title. Harper is newly out of prison; someone gave him a list; he has to do whatever someone on the list asks. Immediately, a mobster asks him to help bring two crime families together. For some reason, he does. Much silliness ensues, although I don't think this is a comedy. Basically, "Pointman" is pointless. Still, it's no worse than either of the United Paramount Network' s new dramas, "Marker" (11 a.m. Sundays on Channel 30) and "The Watcher" (12:05 a.m. Sundays on Channel 30). "Marker" is especially disappointing because it includes a thankless role for Gates McFadden of "Star Trek: The Next Generation." She plays "Kimba," stepmother to Richard DeMorra (Richard Grieco), who in last week's opener came home to Hawaii to his father's funeral and reluctantly stayed to pay off the "markers" his generous billionaire dad gave to those in need. He clashed with Kimba, who inherited everything from dad; got advice from a wise Asian fellow; and helped a pretty young woman with a problem. Did I say something before about predictable? "Marker" is so dull it even sucks the beauty out of the Hawaiian landscape. No such problem for "The Watcher," where there's no beauty to begin with in a very sleazy-looking Las Vegas. On the surface the most offbeat of the five new dramas, this is really the most conventional - a tackier "Hotel" meets "Sliver," minus the sex. Sir Mix-a-Lot (great name for a rapper, ridiculous name for an actor) plays the title role, a bulky, overdressed fellow set up with high video technology to see anything and everything that happens in the city. He leads us through three stories - in the opener, a violent one about greed, a cautionary one about abuse of power, and a sweet one about love. In between, he philosophizes gruffly about the allure and danager of his city while slamming down Gummi Bears. There's a supernatural aura to "The Watcher," who may be intended as an arm of God, seeing that moral justice is done. Or he may just be a peculiar guy in a bad TV show. Not one of these five new dramas, of course, can approach the level of "My So-Called Life," whose departure left fans (the few, the fervent) bereft. We'll miss you, Angela and Rayanne and especially darling Ricky. We'll miss you Graham, and even you, Patty. Hope you're back in the fall, but we're not holding our breath.

***** MY TOP 10 TV DRAMAS

1. "Homicide: Life on the Street." TV's best cast and writing.
2. "My So-Called Life." Poignant and involving. R.I.P.
3. "Chicago Hope." The medical show with guts.
4. "The X-Files." Weird and wonderful.
5. "NYPD Blue." Solid as ever with Jimmy Smits.
6. "Law & Order." Sam Waterston won me over.
7. "Picket Fences." What will they think of next?
8. "ER." The easy-to-watch medical show.
9. "Party of Five." Characters I'd like to adopt.
10. "Under Suspicion." Stylish and sexy.
*Runner up: "Northern Exposure." Ambitious but uneven.
*Hall of fame: "I'll Fly Away." Best ever.

Copyright © 1995, St. Louis Post-Dispatch


“Ignore her. She got up on the wrong side of the coffin this morning.”

Enrique (Rickie) Vasquez, Episode 9: "Halloween"