TV Review

Daddy's Girls;Something Wilder;Madman if the Peopole

LIKE ANY OTHER POP-CULTURE MEDIUM, TELEVISION RELIES ON THE FAMILIAR TO ATTRACT AN AUDIENCE. THE TRICK, ONCE THE AUDIENCE IS ATTRACTED, IS TO THEN DO SOMETHING NEW-UNFAMILIAR-ENOUGH TO KEEP THE CROWD ENTERTAINED. ON TV, THIS PROCESS MOST OFTEN TAKES THE FORM OF CASTING A WELL-KNOWN ACTOR IN A SHOW THAT STRETCHES HIS OR HER STAR PERSONA JUST ENOUGH TO MAKE THAT PERFORMER SEEM FRESHLY INTERESTING. THUS, BUCKING THE TREND FOR GIVING YOUNG STAND-UP COMEDIANS ALL THE LEADS IN SITCOMS, THE NEW SEASON OFFERS US A BATCH OF MIDDLE-AGED COMIC ACTORS. THERE'S DUDLEY MOORE IN DADDY'S GIRLS (CBS, WEDNESDAYS, 8:30-9 P.M.), GENE WILDER IN SOMETHING WILDER (NBC, SATURDAYS, 8-8:30 P.M.), AND DABNEY COLEMAN AS MADMAN OF THE PEOPLE (NBC, THURSDAYS, 9:30-10 P.M.). DUDLEY MOORE LOOKS WAN AND CONFUSED IN DADDY'S GIRLS. GRANTED, HE'S PLAYING A GUY WHOSE WIFE HAS JUST RUN OFF WITH HIS BUSINESS PARTNER. BUT IT DOES SEEM AS IF THE ENGLISHMAN HAS DECIDED THAT THE WAY TO BE A SUCCESS ON AMERICAN SITCOMS IS TO TONE DOWN HIS USUAL IMPISH ENERGY, LEST HE COME ON TOO STRONG. (HE PROBABLY REMEMBERS HIS WINCEABLE WORK IN 1993'S DUD-LY DUDLEY.) MOORE PLAYS THE DADDY IN THIS SHOW'S TITLE, FATHER TO THREE DAUGHTERS, THE MOST AMUSING OF WHOM IS 16-YEAR-OLD PHOEBE (KERI RUSSELL), A CHARMING DIM-BULB DATING THE AMIABLY STUPID SCAR (PHIL BUCKMAN). IN THE WORKPLACE-A CLOTHING BUSINESS-MOORE'S CHIEF ASSET IS ACTOR-PLAYWRIGHT HARVEY FIERSTEIN (TORCH SONG TRILOGY) AS THE CLEVER, OUT-OF-THE-CLOSET FASHION DESIGNER DENNIS. WHEN FIERSTEIN IS DITHERING AMUSINGLY IN HIS GRAVELLY VOICE, MOORE AMOUNTS TO LITTLE MORE THAN STRAIGHT-MAN STRAIGHT MAN. LIKE MOORE, GENE WILDER IS A MOVIE VETERAN WHOSE FILM CAREER SEEMS TO HAVE STALLED. IT QUICKLY BECOMES DIFFICULT TO WATCH THE STAR OF THE PRODUCERS AND YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN LABOR THROUGH THE THIN JOKES OF SOMETHING WILDER WITHOUT FEELING SOMETHING AWFULLY LIKE PITY. CERTAINLY THE PREMISE OF WILDER IS A TAD HUMILIATING: WILDER PLAYS A MASSACHUSETTS AD EXEC WITH A YOUNGER WIFE (THE CHARMINGLY STRAIGHTFORWARD HILLARY B. SMITH; SEE PAGE 48) AND 4-YEAR-OLD FRATERNAL TWINS (CARL MICHAEL LINDNER AND IAN BOTTIGLIERI). WILDER SEEMS TO THINK IT IS INTRINSICALLY FUNNY TO SEE A FELLOW WITH A FEW WRINKLES AND SPINDLY LEGS CAVORTING WITH KIDS-THE WRITERS MUST THINK SO, BECAUSE THEY HAVEN'T GIVEN WILDER ANY DECENT PUNCHLINES, FORCING HIM TO RELY ON HIS PATENTED MUGGING. BEFORE HE TACKLES HIS NEXT SERIES, MAYBE HE SHOULD THINK ABOUT CHANGING HIS NAME TO GENE TAMER. UNLIKE WILDER AND MOORE, DABNEY COLEMAN HAS DONE HIS BEST WORK IN TELEVISION-EVEN HIS ONE BIG MOVIE SUCCESS, PLAYING A MEAN BOSS IN 9 TO 5, WAS JUST A VARIATION ON HIS TV IMAGE. COLEMAN WAS ONE OF THE GREATEST GROUCHES OF ALL TIME IN BUFFALO BILL (1983-84), BUT | THAT SERIES' POOR RATINGS AFFIXED A LABEL TO THE ACTOR THAT HE STILL CAN'T SHAKE: UNLIKABLE. PROCEEDING FROM THE NOTION THAT TV WATCHERS WANT THEIR LEAD CHARACTERS TO BE NICE (HOW WARM AND FUZZY WAS ARCHIE BUNKER OR J.R. EWING?), COLEMAN WATERED DOWN HIS ACIDITY IN THE ''SLAP'' MAXWELL STORY AND THE DREADFUL DREXELL'S CLASS. DIDN'T HELP. NOW, AS MAGAZINE COLUMNIST JACK BRUCKNER IN MADMAN, COLEMAN HAS TONED DOWN HIS SNEER-AFTER ALL, HIS PUBLISHER IS ALSO HIS DAUGHTER (SHE'S PLAYED BY CYNTHIA GIBB WITH A CERTAIN DISLOCATION: SHE SEEMS SMARTER THAN THE ROLE AS IT'S WRITTEN). REQUIRED TO BE CIVIL TO KEEP HIS DAUGHTER HAPPY AND HIS JOB SECURE, COLEMAN'S CHARACTER MAKES NO SENSE-HE'S CERTAINLY NOT A ''MADMAN.'' THERE'S A TIMIDITY HERE THAT ALSO PERVADES DADDY'S GIRLS AND SOMETHING WILDER, MAKING THEIR LACK OF LAUGHS ALL THE MORE DISPIRITING. DADDY'S GIRLS: C- SOMETHING WILDER: C- MADMAN OF THE PEOPLE: C

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Originally posted Sep 30, 1994 Published in issue #242 Sep 30, 1994 Order article reprints
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