Fall Preview: Television


(NBC, 8:30-9 p.m.) From the Malcolm in the Middle school of brilliant, pissy preteen boys in unmanageably difficult families comes this very funny and well-cast comedy. Eli Marienthal, who was excellent in his three minutes onscreen in American Pie, is now the main, masturbating title character himself. Unfortunately, since his no-good father left, Tucker and his mom have had to move in with her sister Claire (Katey Sagal from Married … With Children) and her deranged son Leon, who collects samples of human hair and eats peanut butter suggestively in the top bunk while wearing a monster mask. Things will probably be okay, though, because a cute blonde skateboarder lives across the way – well within binoculars range.

Yes, Dear
(CBS, 8:30-9 p.m.) Has all the irritating domestic pluck the title suggests. Kim and Greg’s house is supposedly in L.A., but it could really be anywhere where people fuss relentlessly over babies. Liza Snyder as Kim’s sister and Mike O’Malley as her brother-in-law are amusing as parents who don’t worry about their kids’ consuming nothing but McDonald’s and cartoons. Less amusing are the attempts at risqué humor: It’s so hot, even the Iranian kids have to flee the sandbox! Get it?


The Geena Davis Show
(ABC, 9:30-10 p.m.) Unlike Bette (see Wednesday), this sitcom is about someone other than the celebrity it’s named after. Geena is your basic Sex and the City character, off to yet another cocktail party with her best friend (Mimi Rogers), until she meets Björn Borg look-alike Max Ryan (Peter Horton; remember Gary from thirtysomething?). He sweeps her off her feet and off the mean streets of Manhattan. They move to a giant house in the ‘burbs with a couple of rugrats, and complications ensue. This is supposed to be a big hit, but we’re not sure why.


(CBS, 8-8:30 p.m.) Starts out with her sick and queasy backstage before a show, attacking the snack table as her manager, her daughter, and her husband try to assuage the distraught Miss M as she complains about having no talent and being sooo old. It’s alternately sort of fun and a little unnerving watching Midler skewer her own real-life career: She’s lowered from the sky in a half-clamshell as she sings “You Gotta Have Friends,” and there are several references to Sally Field’s beating her out for the Oscar. Such witticisms will be lost on anyone who isn’t familiar with Midler’s oeuvre, but CBS is so sure we’ve all seen The Rose that they’re putting her up to bat against Regis. Weirder and less funny are the ceaseless cracks about her weight, when it’s clear that Midler has been avoiding solid food for months to get prime-time trim.

(NBC, 8-9 p.m.) Ah, the television of Aaron Spelling: Sex! Money! Champagne! Victoria Principal! This time, she’s the jilted Gwen, first wife of industrialist Richard Williams (Perry King), who lives across the street with his new devilish, slatternly wife, Heather (Yasmine Bleeth), who is carrying the baby of Gwen and Richard’s prodigal son, Chandler (!), who is worried about his alcoholic sister Jenny, who is competing with their other sister, Laurie, for the attentions of an employee of their mother’s nightclub. You get the idea: juicy tripe.

Welcome to New York
(CBS, 8:30-9 p.m.) Jim Gaffigan plays a midwestern weatherman all screwed up in a brand-new big-city job with Christine Baranski as his boss. He’s in for an ugly surprise. Apparently we New Yorkers spend $1,400 on glasses and $200 on cheese baskets. What really shocks Jim, however, is that we drink alcohol, and as soon as he’s exposed to it he ends up playing a public game of tonsil hockey with his boss. He’s from Indiana, you see, where things are different. After his make-out session with the boss lady, Jim’s reputation as her “boy” is cemented, and we can only guess what shape his hazing will take from here. On an up note, he does manage to befriend the peddler of extravagant cheeses.

The $treet
(Fox, 9-10 p.m.) Tom Everett Scott is back in brokering, but not as the smarmy, sketchy character he played in Boiler Room. This time he’s Jack, a nice guy compared with his horrendous colleagues, who still rant about feminazis. But there is no end to temptation in this world of yachts and strippers (who ask for stock tips in lieu of cash in their G-strings), so even the best members of the new ruling class (Adam Goldberg is – as always – the contemplative Jew) are led astray from time to time. Fortunately, Darren Star has a knack for making bad behavior look pretty good.


Gilmore Girls
(WB, 8-9 p.m.) Lauren Graham is pert and persuasive as 32-year-old Lorelai Gilmore, the hardworking mother of a 16-year-old girl she had when she was the same tender age herself. Rory, the daughter, is played with charm and an elfin half-smile by Alexis Bledel. Together they negotiate the ambiguous boundaries of their just-us-gals relationship (my mother, my sister, my mother my sister!) and attempt to grow up in various capacities against the backdrop of a cute Connecticut town. This is the first series to make it to air as part of an initiative set up by advertisers and the WB to develop scripts that cast a kind eye on alternative families, so it’s a relief that Gilmore Girls is actually good.


(Fox, 8-9 p.m.) Or: The Gen-X Files. Back when Derek (Ethan Embry) was working for his twin brother at occultresearch. com, things sometimes got a little dicey. He’d have to go track down a weird story at a strip club where fire spit out of neon nipples, say. But that was nothing compared with how downright disturbing things have become since Derek found his brother drowned in his own bathtub. Derek is now routinely visited by a creepy little girl in a cloak; an attractive, murderous, and oddly hip black woman who is somehow connected to the disappearance of Colonial Virginians; and, in a more promising turn of events, his dead brother’s onetime girlfriend Chloe (Lisa Sheridan) – and wow, is she cute.

Madigan Men
(ABC, 9:30-10 p.m.) Writer-executive producer Cindy Chupack has turned her attentions from Sex and the City to three generations of romantically challenged Irishmen’s battling it out with their sons and lovers in Manhattan. Architect Benjamin Madigan (Gabriel Byrne) has recently lost his wife to their nutritionist. Though Benji tries to guide his 16-year-old son Luke (John C. Hensley), he’s never been much better at warm paternalism than his own recently widowed father, Seamus, played by Roy Dotrice, who just won a Tony for his performance in A Moon for the Misbegotten alongside Byrne. If you’re expecting lots of Broadway jokes, you won’t be disappointed.

Grosse Pointe
(WB, 8:30-9 p.m.) How charming of Darren Star, the man who does everything, to be the man who parodies life on the adolescent melodrama – the genre he personally resurrected with Bev and Melrose. This time, he shows us life on and off the set on the make-believe teen soap Grosse Pointe, which stars six teens who are as bitchy as Brenda, as mercurial as Michael, and as sexed-up as Sydney. The funniest character is, however, Rob Fields (William Ragsdale), the producer who has to juggle all these hormonal brats and lives in fear of slipping in the ratings and falling off the Hollywood map forever. Perhaps this role was not so funny to Star once upon a time.

The John Goodman Show
(Fox, 8:30-9 p.m.) Can’t anyone figure out how to name a show anymore? Anyway, John Goodman’s back on television, and this time he’s … gay! But it’s not like he’s some swinging Christopher Street party boy (though his name is Rex). In fact, he’s a lot like his character from Roseanne, just with twitchy, would-be-homosexual mannerisms. He takes in his best friend from college, David (Anthony LaPaglia), and David’s two teenagers, and – here’s the p.c. pay-off – even though Rex is gay, he’s a better role model than their horny dad, who is mid-midlife crisis.


That’s Life
(CBS, 8-9 p.m.) One of the best new shows of the season, with a cast that features Paul Sorvino, Ellen Burstyn, and Debi Mazar, and Heather Paige Kent as Lydia DeLucca, a 32-year-old Italian Jersey girl who is ready to give up bartending and start college. Her fiancé is too busy reminding her about her biological clock to offer much support: “I’m a man – I can have kids till I’m a hundred,” he tells her at their wedding shower. Her sister (Mazar) promptly throws him across the dessert table. Things prove different but no less difficult for Lydia at school, where she has sexy professors and bitchy BMW drivers to contend with. Fortunately for her and for us, she still has her tollbooth-operator father (Sorvino) to go home and watch the Giants with.


(NBC, 8-9 p.m.) Though David Letterman and fellow Worldwide Pants producers Rob Burnett and Jon Beckerman created this show, Ed owes more to Northern Exposure than to Stupid Human Tricks. That isn’t to say this story of a New York lawyer who catches his wife (Janeane Garofalo) in bed with the mailman and consequently cashes it all in to move back to Stuckeyville, Ohio, isn’t funny: It’s just that it’s also surprisingly sweet. Ed Stevens, played by the very blue-eyed Tom Cavanagh, becomes a bowling-alley owner and shows up at the local high school in a suit of armor to impress an old flame, for starters. Meanwhile, his best friend, Mikey, the local doctor, can no longer have sex with his wife because every time he looks at her breasts, he thinks of their baby feeding, and … you do the math.

Curb Your Enthusiasm
(HBO; premieres October 15, 9:30-10 p.m.; at 10 p.m. thereafter) If you didn’t know better, you might have thought the 1999 HBO special by the same name was a brilliant, hilarious documentary tracing Larry David’s life after Seinfeld, which he co-created and in which his personality appeared thinly veiled in the guise of George Costanza. But it was even funnier if you knew that this was just another one of David’s dark comic fictions, this time starring himself as himself: a guy who seethes with anxiety and frustration over everything. The saga continues, with Jeff Garlin back as David’s manager and Cheryl Hines as his chirpy wife. If the series maintains half the quality of the special, it’s worth getting premium cable for this show alone.

(Court TV, 10-10:30 p.m.) In a grim spin on the Real World of Survivor and Big Brother, we now get to see the videotaped confessions of murderers who have gamely spilled their guts to district attorneys and cops. You may or may not care about the potential violations to the criminals’ civil rights posed by such a show. You may or may not care that you can now just as easily watch Daniel Rakowitz admit to “cooking the meat” of his roommate after he killed her as you can catch a Friends rerun. But too disturbing to ignore are the sentences handed out to these (mostly quite insane) killers as arbitrarily as door prizes. Creepy stuff.

Fall Preview: Television