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Tv Reviews : Abc Counters With 'Bash,' 'sunshine'

March 28, 1986|LEE MARGULIES | Times Staff Writer

Credit ABC with daring to be different. While most of the Friday-night TV audience has demonstrated clearly its preference for the mindless escapism of "Dallas," "Falcon Crest" and "Miami Vice," the third-place network is countering tonight with two new series that favor sardonicism and cynicism.

The first, "Mr. Sunshine," premiering at 9 p.m. on Channels 7, 3, 10 and 42, is a comedy about a blind man who has recently separated from his wife; the second, "Joe Bash," at 9:30 p.m., is about a gloomy, world-weary cop who is passing time until he can retire.

Not your typical sitcom formats.

"Joe Bash," in fact, is not a sitcom at all, there being no laugh track and no hard-edged jokes. It's more a black-humor character study about the 51-year-old title character portrayed by Peter Boyle, who in tonight's episode gets a new, energetic young partner (Andrew Rubin) who threatens to disrupt the tranquillity of his late-night foot patrol through the streets of New York.

And black as night it is. Created by former "Barney Miller" producer Danny Arnold, the character of Joe calls to mind the earlier show's Det. Fish, a sourpuss perpetually beset by life's woes. But Fish was probably always that way; Joe seems to have been beaten into submission by too many years on the job--burned out after failing to make a difference in the world.

It's the darkest TV series to come along since NBC's short-lived "Buffalo Bill" in 1983. Bill didn't have much regard for the rest of humanity, except insofar as he could use them, but at least he believed in himself. Joe doesn't even have that. "Illusion is what's important," he says.

Directed by Arnold from a script he wrote with Philip Jayson Lasker and Chris Hayward, "Joe Bash" is a markedly different show. It's certainly not entertaining in the usual TV sense, but the intriguing premise and the captivating performance by Boyle nevertheless leave one interested in tuning in again next week to see where they can possibly go from here.

Although the title is meant ironically, "Mr. Sunshine" is indeed a great deal sunnier than "Joe Bash." For though the title character, Paul Stark, exhibits signs of turning nasty and bitter about his disability, it's obvious before the first 30 minutes are up that his acerbic humor is merely a defense mechanism to protect himself from suffering further pain.

With its jokes about being blind--"bats use me as a role model," Paul quips--"Mr. Sunshine" is treading sensitive ground.

But writer David Lloyd deftly sidesteps the pitfalls of being either too mocking or too mawkish. Lloyd won an Emmy a few years ago by demonstrating on the "Chuckles Bites the Dust" episode of "The Mary Tyler Moore Show" that even death could be made funny if handled properly.

Under the direction of John Rich, Jeffrey Tambor is first-rate as Paul, eliciting support and affection for the character through a realistic display of different attitudes about his blindness--being neither heroic nor maudlin about it but alternately accepting it and being frustrated by it.

The supporting characters--including his secretary (Nan Martin), his landlady (Barbara Babcock) and his teen-age son (John P. Navin Jr.)--are less inspired, but as with "Joe Bash," the premise is so unusual that further attention is warranted.

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