In Bette (Wednesdays, starting October 11; 8 to 8:30 p.m.; CBS), Bette Midler plays herself, and there is no more agreeable excuse for a half-hour series than Divine Camp. This is without even counting, as a member of her home-and-office entourage, her best friend and manager, Joanna Gleason, who belongs on network television whenever she doesn’t have a Broadway gig. We are promised that the diva, between wisecracks about fat, age, Sally Field, and The Rose, will sing on almost every show. (In the pilot, what she does in turning a Kid Rock rap into scat is gasp-inducing.) We are also promised famous friends in cameo appearances. (In the pilot, Danny DeVito, who asks her to play his mother in a movie; later on, Dolly Parton.) What we’ve already got, courtesy of executive producer Jeffrey Lane (Mad About You), is a bawdy night of shticks and bones.
Would that The Geena Davis Show (Tuesdays, starting October 10; 9:30 to 10 p.m.; ABC) had a fraction of this sass. She’s a fund-raising career woman – chasing taxis, eating takeout, dishing with sarcastic friends like Mimi Rogers – who falls hard for journalist Peter Horton, a widower with two kids and a house and a housekeeper in the sort of suburbs accessible only by SUV. In spite of this culture clash, they will actually get married – if the series lasts long enough. But we’ve been here before, far too often with far too many Instant Incompetent Moms, and this Thelma needs a Louise more than she needs a Horton.
And who would have guessed that Christine Baranski needs a Cybill Shepherd more than she needs a Jim Gaffigan? In Welcome to New York (Wednesdays, starting October 11; 8:30 to 9 p.m.; CBS), stand-up comic Gaffigan as an Indiana TV weatherman makes the big move to the big city – “People in New York wear black only until something darker comes along” is a sample of the wit – where Baranski is the producer of his morning news show and about as much fun as a basket of switchblades. It was apparently supposed to be his show until she came along – and she seems to be trying to steal it from him. More than their personalities clash; their comedy styles are less a risible juxtaposition than a metal-rending car wreck.
Whereas Curb Your Enthusiasm (Sundays, starting October 15; 9:30 to 10 p.m., 10 to 10:30 p.m. thereafter; HBO), after an excess of mosey, goes nowhere on purpose – and seems to think that never arriving is somehow funny. This is Larry David, capitalizing on the vaunted inconsequentiality of his years as the co-creator of Seinfeld, in a ten-part half-hour series that is both improvised and cinema verité. Thus, Larry goes to a Dustin Hoffman movie with a friend of his wife’s where he happens to meet Richard Lewis, as he will later meet Ted Danson, Diane Keaton, and, perhaps inevitably, Julia Louis-Dreyfus. As if on an NBC Olympics tape delay, I found myself thinking about Curb after Curb had long since stopped thinking about itself. It’s as if Godot had decided there was no way he’d ever show up for anyone dumb enough to wait for him.