THE SECRET DIARY OF DESMOND PFEIFFER
Introducing this season’s winner of the what-drug-were-they- smoking-when-they-created-this-show award: UPN’s The Secret Diary of Desmond Pfeiffer (pronounced puh-fighfer; the P isn’t silent), a sitcom about the British black butler of Abraham Lincoln. Airing Mondays at 9 p.m. opposite Ally McBeal — that other show featuring a skinny lawyer — this Benson-meets- Married…With Children-meets-Ken Burns half hour could be the most bizarrely mesmerizing thing on TV since H. Ross Perot.
Historical accuracy isn’t pfirst priority. Lincoln is portrayed as an oafish oversexed bumbler with gay tendencies (he muses lustily over the washboard stomachs of the Union troops), while high-fiving butler Pfeiffer (Chi McBride) is the real White House brain. A trash-talking First Lady (Christine Estabrook) makes for a not-so-subtle Hillary clone. And there are enough libido gags to provoke blushes from Wild Bill himself. ”Lincoln is so revered, he seemed like a decent target: Could the greatest President of all time stand up to the intense scrutiny that goes on today?” says exec producer Barry Fanaro. ”And, I don’t know, pork-chop sideburns and muskets sounded interesting to us.”
Interesting for an episode, but a series? You be the judge: In one upcoming episode, Honest Abe attends his high school reunion, only to realize everyone still thinks he’s a geek; in another, he has primitive cybersex over the telegraph. ”This is exactly the show we want to put on our air to say, ‘Wake up! We’re alive over here! We do cool TV too!’ ” says UPN Entertainment president Tom Nunan. Adds Dann Florek, who plays the Prez, ”If we can get half the audience to laugh and piss off the other half, we’ll be right on target.” Can’t hardly wait for that May-sweeps assassination episode. BOTTOM LINE Must see (to believe).
GUYS LIKE US
CONCEPT Two single fellows (Bumper Robinson and Singled Out’s Chris Hardwick) get a new roommate: one of the guys’ 6-year-old brother (Maestro Harrell).
THE SCOOP Give Hardwick credit for being refreshingly frank about why he’s in this series: ”My criteria was to get a job. That I fell into this show was luck.” The real star, however, is the diminutive but cunning Harrell. Says creator-exec producer Dan Schneider: ”I first met him for dinner at the Bel Age Hotel. During the meal, two women came up to the table and said, ‘We were just noticing from across the room — you’re so cute!’ You could just feel this kid’s charisma.”
BOTTOM LINE Maestro is a cutie, but the adults aren’t amusing — and if it’s kids people want to see in this time period, they’d be better off at The WB with 7th Heaven.
CONCEPT A transit cop (comic and former transit cop John DiResta), his funny job, and his funny family.
THE SCOOP Says DiResta, ”I went from being a cop and a comedian to worrying about time slots.” Are the suits listening to him, as far as story ideas go? ”My name’s on the show,” he says, ”but Paramount and UPN pay the bills.” Doesn’t bode well for transit-cop verisimilitude.
BOTTOM LINE All the elements (appealing premise, alert supporting cast) are in place, but somebody forgot the punchlines.
CONCEPT Beleaguered, good-guy copywriter (Mark Feuerstein) has his hands full with his family (whiny mom is Linda Lavin), work (a burned-out colleague is played by Barney Miller’s Steve Landesberg), and his neurotic friends. Almost makes you yearn for Must-She TV, doesn’t it?
THE SCOOP Of Conrad’s relationship with his mother, executive producer Marco Pennette says, ”It’s about becoming a parent to your parent.” In other news, Conrad will date a supermodel!
BOTTOM LINE Light on laughs, drenched in guilt — like Working (and a thousand other office/family comedies) with more neuroses.