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Fall '99: "Snoops"

What is it about David E. Kelley and catfights? Whenever the action gets slow on one of his shows, he breaks out the one-liners -- rolled in sugar-coated bile and covered with a thin candy shell -- and lets a few women casually swipe at each other until another plot point appears on the horizon. It's annoying on his other shows, but on Snoops -- where the plot points are few and far between -- the entire show is a claws-on-the-blackboard snipefest between three unlikable women and their token male sidekick.

Executed correctly, a one-hour festival of bitchery might be fun -- just ask anyone who's ever worked for Darren Starr or Aaron Spelling. But because this is David E. Kelley, the show comes with a pedigree. It's supposed to be quirky and thought-provoking. The catfights are supposed to be pointing out the human dimensions to Big Ethical Dilemmas, and illuminating how complex adversarial relationships really are. Catfights work when the participants seem to be genuinely engaged in them; it helps if the antagonists love or hate each other. In the case of Snoops, the principal sex kittens -- Gina Gershon and Paula Marshall -- regard each other with tired apathy. They're supposed to care what the other thinks, but they can't remember why.

They're not getting any help from the script. With no fewer than fourteen musical interludes in one hour, the actors aren't trapped in a bad show so much as they're trapped in a series of bad scenes strung together by tricky-camera shot fadeouts and revamped rock standards. The lights on the Santa Monica Pier are shown in slow-motion, stop-start action, dizzying rapidity and reverent wide angle. L.A.'s skyscrapers are caressed by the camera from every angle while some breathy rocker mangles "Secret Agent Man." We get a real feel for L.A. as -- well, as a place where there's a lot of real pretty lights and bad rock covers. And evil fat people.

How nice to know that Boston doesn't hold the monopoly on obese people who are clearly bereft of any ethics (see also: Ally McBeal, The Practice). The pilot dealt with one woman's death -- whom everyone characterized in one breath as both unpleasant and fat -- being engineered by another woman whom everyone characterized as fat and unpleasant. When the putative murderer kisses her lover, apres-secret surveillance confession, the spying protagonists all squeal, "Eeewwwwwww." Like, how gross!

Memo to David E. Kelley: Hiring Camryn Manheim does not exonerate you for your persistent mockery of anyone weighing over 120 pounds.

Nor does being David E. Kelley exonerate him for this steaming load of litterbox treats. This show combines the worst of his other current projects -- perpetually squabbling women, "quirky" clients, protagonists hampered not by their state-of-the-art equipment but their own incompetence -- without any of their redeeming characteristics. If you want to see crime solving in Los Angeles punctuated by spicy-hot catfights, forgo the Snoops pedigree and head straight for V.I.P. After all, the best fights go on in the alley.


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