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ABC: Already Boring Crap

I hope you like Regis. I hope you like his unnaturally baby-smooth face beaming in supercilious condescension and his snide staccato bark. I hope you also like watching average people sweat on national television, trying to keep their cool as they stumble toward or away from the final answer.

In short, I hope you like Who Wants To Be A Millionaire, because as of this fall, it's on four nights a week.

Oh, sure, ABC thinks they're doing the smart thing now: Millionaire has singlehandedly rescued the network from becoming the televised equivalent of wallpaper, so why not give the people what they want and broadcast it as often as humanly possible?

Because viewers are fickle. Sooner or later, we will all tire of watching people blow the chance to win just enough money to screw up their taxes. We will wonder why we bothered to tune in: the only plot to the show is one of low-grade greed -- the truly rapacious aren't going to settle for only winning a million pre-tax dollars when they can steal or earn much, much more instead -- and the characters, with the exception of Regis, drift in and out without our getting to know or care about them.

So we'll stop tuning in for Millionaire in, oh, I'd say, January 2001. And we'll wonder, what else is there for us to watch?

The answer: not much. There's Geena, starring Geena Davis. In theory, this could be interesting, especially if it were autobiographical: Geena could be about someone fleeing a tall, deeply weird ex-husband or reaming an ex-husband who seems to regard his chosen profession as a chance to exact cultural terrorism on Middle America. Geena could be about an actress who begins to forge an avocation as a disciplined athlete. Or it could even be about an intrepid actress-turned-sleuth who tracks down the voodoo priestess that cursed the Best Supporting Actress statuette; imagine the potential for weekly guest appearances by Brenda Fricker, Anna Paquin, Marisa Tomei and Mira Sorvino.

Unfortunately, Geena is a typical fish-out-of-water sitcom: sophisticated single New Yorker falls in love with single dad and must adjust to life as mom to his moppets.

This sitcom is destined to fail for two reasons: it touts the tired stereotype of career woman as the anti-mom, and it's supposed to rely on a "distinct brand of sarcastic humor." Viewers may have built up an immunity to hackneyed plot premises, but they will never buy Davis as a font of sarcastic humor. Her best work relies on the odd tension between her model-good looks and her sweetly goofy, yet self-assured personality. There's no need -- or room for -- sarcasm in that mix. Viewers will probably be left with an impression of a vehicle that's all wrong for its star.

The star-vehicle mismatch is also evident in Madigan's Men, a sitcom starring smoldering Irish actor Gabriel Bryne as a recently-divorced dad who's clueless about modern dating and oblivious to the fact that he's catnip to the ladies. Fortunately, his teenaged son and priapic father are around to help him score. Byrne has now officially squandered whatever public goodwill was left over from his understated performance in The Usual Suspects. He's always had a tin ear for projects -- see Stigmata and End of Days -- but this latest career move suggests that Bryne was stricken with insane jealousy over news of Ellen Barkin's engagement to Ron Perelman, and signed the contract during an out-of-body experience. Would that the viewers reward such insanity by having an out-of-channel experience.

This is assuming anyone's left to switch away from ABC after sitting through People Who Fear People. The premise is somewhat novel: two men look around and see a profusion of invasive technologies -- surveillance cameras at ATMs, grocery stores, and traffic lights, detailed credit records, grocery cards that log every purchase. Instead of becoming the newest residents in Montana's back country, they elect to nurture raging paranoia.

Great premise: a time-honored vehicle for observing the craziness of society is to have someone who's nuts point it all out in a reasonable way. The therapist as foil is a good idea too -- Socrates had his dialogues, and the patient-therapist dialogue is an excellent means for letting the crazy person deconstruct supposedly "sane" society.

The only fly in the ointment is Jon Cryer as the wacky neighbor who is, indeed, out to get the protagonists. The premise -- the world may or may not be out to get you -- is immediately invalid: if Duckie Dale is stalking you, it's a pretty good sign that your paranoia is justified.

Fortunately, none of these shows are remotely near ABC's one good move, and thus you can tune in for Gideon's Crossing without fear of stumbling across any of ABC's new offerings. You will want to tune in: it stars Andre Braugher as a doctor who is more or less the antithesis of those clowns on ER. Fans of situational irony may want to tune in just to contrast his performance with fellow Homicide: Life on the Street alum Michael Michele's stunning imitation of deadwood over on ER.

I sincerely hope Gideon's Crossing takes off: Braugher is one of America's best actors, and deserves to be seen by a wider audience than the CourtTV crowd watching Homicide reruns. He's always fun to watch, because he fleshes out his characters with such fervor that it's impossible for the viewer to not feel a connection to any of them. For all I care, ABC could change Gideon's Crossing to Gideon's Kitchen and force Braugher to spend 48 minutes peeling potatoes; he's so good an actor that I'd still tune in.

God knows you'll have few enough other reasons to watch ABC. Unless, of course, you're still enamored of Regis. In that case, you'll probably be satisfied with everything else the network is offering.


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