If you can't be funny, at least be nice.
That seems to be the operating premise of the two new comedy series that CBS is introducing tonight: "Fast Times" at 8 p.m. and "Tough Cookies" at 8:30 p.m. (Channels 2 and 8). It works much better in the former show than in the latter.
"Fast Times" is based on the 1982 movie "Fast Times at Ridgemont High," which is to say that it has the same characters as the film but not the sex and drugs. So Jeff Spicoli, the movie's doped-up party animal, is played here as just a mellow, loveable lunkhead. Isn't TV sanitization great?
If you're not expecting the motion picture, however, "Fast Times" is rather pleasant. Not as wacky as "Square Pegs," the underappreciated 1982 CBS comedy that also focused on high school students and their teachers, it is no less appealing, boasting an attractive, engaging cast and a warm, gentle sense of humor. (And the high-energy, animated title sequence, featuring a theme song by Oingo Boingo, is dynamite.)
Amy Heckerling, who directed the film and is credited here with directing, co-producing and helping to write tonight's story (with Marc Warren and Dennis Rinsler), clearly likes her young characters and effectively conveys her empathy for their struggle to become adults. She obviously believes that teen-agers are people, too, and can be funny and touching just like the rest of us without resorting to gags based on stereotypes and slurs.
That's nice. So is "Tough Cookies." The difference is, that's all you can say for "Tough Cookies." It doesn't have big laughs, it doesn't have deep sentiment, it doesn't have colorful characters.
What it does have is Robby Benson, and that's the problem. He plays Cliff Brady, who describes himself in the premiere tonight, only half in jest, as a "young police detective: dedicated, tough--but underneath, warm, caring--and a great kisser."
Come on! Benson looks too young even for a revival of "The Mod Squad," much less to play a hard-nosed, experienced Chicago cop. With his boyish features, soft voice and gentle demeanor, you wonder whether the pistol he packs carries bullets or caps.
The script by Jan Fischer and William Weidner, dealing with Brady's romance with a TV anchorwoman, has some good moments, and Paul Krasny has directed it with charm and unusually detailed attention to atmosphere. But the miscasting of Benson, a capable actor, fatally undermines the entire enterprise.
Another program of note today is "Are You My Mother?," an "ABC Afterschool Special" at 3 p.m. on Channel 10, and at 4 p.m. on Channels 3 and 42 (Channel 7 has opted not to carry this in favor of its regularly-scheduled Tom Snyder show). Although stilted in execution, the drama presents an interesting story--about a girl's discovery that the mother she thought was dead is actually living on the streets--and boldly challenges its young audience to help the homeless.
Jeanne Betancourt cannily constructs her teleplay around the fact that the girl (Beth Miller) makes her discovery while working on a music video that her father (Michael York) is producing. The program ends with the video itself--images of street people cut to a song by Michael Franks, who sings as one of the "forgotten people" crying out to the audience: "You have the power to help us. . . . Don't turn away."