Even though one of the McCallister brothers will eventually be elected president of the United States, Jack & Bobby (Sundays; 9 to 10 p.m.; WB) weren’t named for martyred Kennedys. They were named for their absent Mexican father, Juan Roberto, a restaurant busboy aspiring to be an architect, who ran away from babies he wasn’t old enough to handle. Their omnipresent American mother, a scholarship student who grew up to become a college professor, remembers Juan Roberto fondly and forgivingly. Still, Grace McCallister felt it necessary to improve his résumé; his two sons are told that he was an archaeologist who disappeared into one of his own digs. Since Grace is played by Christine Lahti, she can do pretty much whatever she wants to, so far as I’m concerned.
But her older boy, Jack (Matt Long), doesn’t see things my way. He sees a control freak who has so smotherloved his asthmatic younger brother that Bobby (Logan Lerman) may be too “weird” to survive high school. In the premiere episode—during which Grace has a disastrous first encounter with the new president of her university (John Slattery), Jack puts the moves on that president’s smart and sexy daughter (Jessica Paré), Bobby loses his only friend to a gang of dimwatt hoodlets, and talking heads from the future (White House staffers chatting, in 2049, about two McCallister administrations) let slip which of the brothers turns into a “visionary” statesman and which one dies—Jack and Grace, after equally fraught visits to the principal’s office and the hospital, sign a sort of Molotov-Ribbentrop pact. She will back off, while cool Jack will see to it that weird Bobby negotiates the Bermuda Triangle of puberty.
“A grandfather now, I’m tired of self-righteous teens trashing their parents and teachers on television.”
We are asked here to trust the pedigree of the producers and cast. It happens that I was raised, along with a younger brother, by a single mother who was better than we deserved. A grandfather now, I admit I’m tired of self-righteous teenagers trashing their parents and teachers on television as if we were born knowing everything and gradually forget it as we age—as if we deserved being lectured to on the meaning of life by poisoned Twinkies straight out of a Bret Easton Ellis novel, so stoned, horny, ungrateful, and uncomprehending, not to mention stifled since Pampers, that they are less interesting than their urine samples. I wanted Grace to smite Jack with her silver tongue. And Lahti would have if Wendy Wasserstein were still writing her lines, as in The Heidi Chronicles on Broadway or An American Daughter on Lifetime cable.
Jack & Bobby has, however, another agenda. The idea is to follow the two brothers through high school to see what a moral education looks like. The McCallister who becomes our president—and I see no need to tell you which one here—will somehow acquire the emotional, intellectual, and ethical capital he later invests in a better politics than we can imagine at this base moment. Smartly done and deeply felt, this should be something to see. And with actors like Lahti, directors like David Nutter (Smallville, Without a Trace), and executive producers like Greg Berlanti (Dawson’s Creek, Everwood), Mickey Liddell (Everwood, Go), and Thomas Schlamme (The West Wing), we are guaranteed seeing it for at least thirteen weeks.
But suppose you are looking for distraction as well as, or instead of, intelligence in the new fall season. Most of us are. Last fall’s dramatic-series surprise was Las Vegas, all jiggle and surveillance cameras, a rush we could count on. It’s too early to speak for all the new shows, although you can be sure somebody this second is trying hard to sign up Zell Miller for an episodic version of The Thing. But so far so disappointing, at least on NBC, in the stylish trash sweepstakes.
Hawaii, for instance (Wednesdays; 8 to 9 p.m.): In the first installment, many many paired-up, buddy-bonding cops, impersonated by the likes of Michael Biehn, Ivan Sergei, Eric Balfour, etc., follow a severed head all the way to an active volcano. This is followed up the next week by just two pairs working on two different cases, one a bank heist, the other a birthday beach party that a dangerous convict may have escaped from prison to attend. Maybe we’ll like these people more when we have had the time to learn their names, but two weeks running, they push too hard on the dumb-luck pedal.
Whereas LAX (Mondays; 10 to 11 p.m.) you’d think would be surefire. Heather Locklear and Blair Underwood each want to run an international airport, but between drunken pilots who want to go back to the Balkans, illegal immigrants from the Philippines, and missing children and runaway dogs and a drug bust and a bomb scare, they must learn to share, with Heather in charge of the runways and Blair the baggage carousels—Miss Outside and Mister Inside. Meanwhile, all around them, human-interest stories are contagious and ought to be quarantined. The problem is that we are told that we are having fun instead of our having fun without being told.
And, finally, Medical Investigation (Fridays; 10 to 11 p.m.), in which Neal McDonough is even more obnoxious as a hotshot from the National Institutes of Health than he was as a D.A. in Boomtown. I am mystified; the man no sooner arrives in a New York hospital full of dying blue bodies than he insults all of the doctors and most nurses. Kelli Williams, late of The Practice, tries but fails to soften his edges. Christopher Gorham, the pleasant goof from Jake 2.0, is just as pleasant and just as goofy here, but also idealistic.
Most critics seem to agree that Joey (Thursdays; 8 to 8:30 p.m.; NBC) is the best of the new sitcoms. I join this crowd with my fingers crossed, or maybe my eyes. Best is relative, considering the rest of them. In this case, with Matt LeBlanc leaving a soap-opera acting job in New York for lousy luck in series TV in L.A., “best” involves too many breast-implant jokes (all at the expense of Drea de Matteo, who plays his flamboyant sister), too much gigglepuss innuendo (“I am gay for David Cassidy”), a tropical storm of an agent (Jennifer Coolidge), and a Cal Tech nephew who must be majoring in stupid. I did like one line from the blonde next-door-neighbor corporate lawyer: “I make the world just a little bit worse.”