TV SEASON PREVIEWS:MONDAYHow I met a great new show, and some wannabes
By Kay McFadden Seattle Times
Primetime Monday offers bewildering options to West Coast viewers. The last hour of football or the first hour of family time? Yo-ho-ho adventure or cozy soap?
Your best bet for starters is to go for the funny. Scheduling changes and a fresh infusion of creativity into the perpetually moribund sitcom make this choice newly attractive.
On TV's checkerboard of life, the brilliant "Arrested Development" and stalwart "King of Queens" move from less friendly confines to tonight at 8, while CBS' enticing "How I Met Your Mother" debuts at 8:30. There, it competes with an aspiring laugher from Fox called "Kitchen Confidential."
Humor's infinite variations also get an airing. Don Johnson returns to TV at 9 in The WB dramedy "Just Legal," while Henry Winkler co-stars at 9:30 in CBS' dyspeptic "Out of Practice," the latest project from the former "Frasier" producing team.
Toss Johnson and Winkler with Neil Patrick Harris in "How I Met Your Mother" and you have a salad of nostalgia mellowed by time, maturity and breaking type. And you get a lot of Winkler, who reprises his oily guest role in tonight's season opener of "Arrested Development."
This evening also will test the fortitude of CBS' "Two and a Half Men," which takes over the 9 p.m. spot once held by "Everybody Loves Raymond."
Based on ratings last spring and all summer long, it's looking pretty good for Charlie Sheen and company. But in the interests of rooting, let's hope Fox's exciting "Prison Break" can lock down second place ahead of other male-skewing competitors like NBC's "Las Vegas."
NBC is the resolute holdout against funny Mondays. The Peacock sallies into the sci-fi thriller field at 8 p.m. with "Surface," which leads off an evening of one-hour dramas that conclude at 10 with "Medium" versus "CSI: Miami."
Got all that straight? Never mind. Here's the Critic Cliff's Notes on new series to keep you away from dull strangers:"Surface," NBC:
Yeah, I know Bugs Bunny once said monsters were the most in-teresting people. But "Surface" features a ragged script, stereotyped characters and a rubbery villain that could have reared its head in the beloved 1960s live action/puppet series "Diver Dan."
The pilot has the laborious pacing of a two-night miniseries. It takes a half-hour to set up multiple scenarios of folks that stumble onto evidence of a suspicious aquatic presence: the intrepid single-mom oceanographer; the sinister Head of An Institute; the adolescent boy whose late-night encounter morphs into an "ET"-like obsession.
It's all pretty mundane, because the producers give the big surprise away early on, and it's the only surprise they've got. Compared with the sophisticated, well-produced "Threshold," NBC's "Surface" is just that. That glub-glub-glub you hear is the sound of a ratings dive."How I Met Your Mother," CBS:
NBC is coming to resemble the CBS of the bad old days; CBS is taking on attributes of NBC that go beyond No. 1 status.
The newest evidence of this trend is "How I Met Your Mother," a New York-set sitcom with drop-dead timing and a likable, invigorating cast of twentysomethings. It's the "Friends" successor that NBC couldn't find and the perfect show to break CBS out of its fat-boy-skinny-wife syndrome.
The pilot begins with Ted (Josh Radnor) narrating the story of the title to his kids. We flashback to years earlier, when a younger Ted displays mixed envy and joy as his friend Marshall (Jason Segel) announces he's proposing to girlfriend Lily (Alyson Hannigan).
Meanwhile, a perpetually Peter Pan-ish pal named Barney (Neil Patrick Harris) is happy to help Ted find a girl but is adamantly opposed to marriage. The story's romance goes from there and climaxes tonight in an unexpected twist that blatantly teases us.
As "Friends" did, "How I Met Your Mother" banks on cast chemistry and elements of comfortable familiarity. It even has a headquarters a bar instead of a coffee shop. If the script offers no big surprises, that matters less than the consummate execution of quick zingers leavened by affection.
All of the actors are adept. I especially enjoyed seeing Harris destroy what remains of his "Doogie"-like sincerity, and former "Buffy" acolyte Hannigan using comedy to kill.
As a bridge between the sweet-hearted "King of Queens" and the sardonic "Two and a Half Men," this new series exceeds expectations. CBS is determined to court viewers under 40, and the winsome and clever "How I Met Your Mother" is a very good start."Kitchen Confidential," Fox:
Based on Anthony Bourdain's best-selling antidote to celebrity-chef worship, "Kitchen Confidential" tries to bring his bawdy autobiography to life. Alas, the script frantically jams together so many disparate bits, the result is less an amuse bouche than an amuse manque.
It's also for Fox and executive producer Darren Star curiously stiff and demure. Although an opening montage whisks Bourdain (Bradley Cooper) through the drugging and womanizing that landed him on the restaurant equivalent of Skid Row, he's reformed when the story begins.
What fun is that? Minus a rise-and-fall-and-rise-again framework, the show sags. The only suspense is whether Bourdain's new restaurant will succeed, and that's resolved in the pilot.
Some bold antics about the gritty side of cuisine might have compensated. But these elements from the book are toned down or scrubbed out. Even less forgivable is the virtual absence of Hispanic characters from a series about an industry where Mexicans and Ecuadorians reign.
Left lingering on our palates is some desperate slapstick and the possibility that the restaurant owner is mobbed up. With a paucity of food and sex, the only primary appetite that "Kitchen Confidential" fulfills is sleep. It was that, or the Food Channel."Just Legal," The WB:
At first, I considered any show starring Don Johnson to be a discordant pairing with "7th Heaven," which returns at 8 for a wholesome and impressive 10th season.
That's before the screener arrived. It subsequently became clear that "Just Legal" is only partly about the humorous pairing of an earnest, 18-year-old lawyer named Skip Ross (Jay Baruchel) with Grant Cooper, an ex-trial whiz turned boozy reprobate (you know who).
Beneath the odd-couple veneer, "Just Legal" reveals a heartfelt venture that evokes the early, pre-Spader and Shatner days of "Boston Legal." What we can expect to see every week is a battle against a cynical legal system that rewards expedient deal-making and favors the rich and smart.
Tonight is a case study in point. After some delicious sparring that confirms comic compatibility between Baruchel and Johnson, the plot about a young woman wrongly accused of murder moves into more serious and sentimental waters.
Skip discovers that Cooper used to be a hotshot until he took on a case that confronted the police. He lost the trial and his reputation (though not a good golf swing or memory).
As we can guess, it's Skip's job to re-ignite Cooper's passion. And this is accomplished by such well-cast, talented actors that if "Just Legal" were a movie, I'd be thrilled to recommend it.
The problem demonstrated by Episode 2 is a rogue can only reveal his inner idealist so many times before the gimmick becomes maudlin and pat, especially when it's the overwhelming focus.
At a time when most TV law dramas favor prosecutors, "Just Legal" is a worthy endeavor undone by a custard heart. Maybe future shows will have more spice and some much-needed subplots."Out of Practice," CBS:
A comedy about a family of physicians that have little in common may sound familiar. However, "Out of Practice" is no "Frasier," despite springing from two of the same creative sources.
This acidic series puts together some familiar faces without seeming to care if they're believable as doctors or even as relatives. Henry Winkler and Stockard Channing play divorced parents, with Christopher Gorham, Ty Burrell and Paula Marshall as their adult children.
There's a lot of competitive sparring and discontent that finds joy only in being proved right. Of course, "Frasier" contained plenty of similar vitriol. But it was balanced by a self-mocking awareness and an underlying affection wholly absent from "Out of Practice."
What's most off-putting is a crass script that produces punch lines like "You should come out with me some night. I'm like some dyke-sniffing truffle hog." Is it the 1990s again?
If CBS wants to learn from the glory years of NBC, just one little piece of advice: Stick to "Friends" and "Seinfield." Forget "Union Square" and "Veronica's Closet."http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/cgi...&date=20050919