This new series about a New York emergency-response team — the fictional Harlem Eastside Lifesaving Program, or H.E.L.P. — derives its primary interest from its odd contrast in styles: The show is full of the sorts of hyped-up dramatizations of emergencies that characterize trash TV like Rescue 911, but it’s overseen by serene, charming, classy John Mahoney.
Mahoney plays the head of H.E.L.P. The way the show has been structured by co-executive producer Dick Wolf (Hill Street Blues, Miami Vice), Mahoney is there to anchor the show, to be the warm, gravelly voice of sanity after we’ve just been shown some scene of hysterical emergency — a little girl drowning in a bathtub, a man on fire jumping into the Hudson River, that sort of thing.
H.E.L.P. tries to have it both ways, to be exploitive and humanistic at the same time. The result is a show with a schizophrenic tone, which, given the blandness of series television, isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It’s just that, in this first episode, the emergencies are at once too crude and too predictable (there’s no way, for example, that ABC was gging to let that little girl in the bathtub drown, and she doesn’t), while John Mahoney’s scenes are too warm and fuzzy. As the team leader who deals with the screwed-up city bureaucracy, he’s being turned into a Daniel J. Travanti for the ’90s. Mahoney doesn’t need H.E.L.P. C