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Tv Review : 'Shell Game' Has Banter And Jinks

January 08, 1987|HOWARD ROSENBERG | Times Television Critic

People don't just talk on TV anymore. They banter.

ABC's "Moonlighting" is currently TV's world-class banterer, with Cybill Shepherd and Bruce Willis pouring forth continuously charming rat-a-tat-tat as quirky Maddie Hayes and smirky David Addison.

The genre gets another working over with Margot Kidder and James Read on "Shell Game," the CBS adventure/comedy/drama/whatever series premiering at 8 tonight on CBS (Channels 2 and 8). They play crabbing, blabbing, snipping, quipping former con artists Jennie Jerome and John Reid, who were once married to each other.

John is now in TV, with his own consumer-action show, but is still shifty. And so is Jennie, wangling a job with John's production staff tonight as a way of eluding an angry mark. Together, combining their skills at deception, John and Jennie create a "sting" that foils a husband's nasty scheme to grab his wealthy wife's money.

This hour has high jinks, low jinks and every other kind of jinks. What it doesn't have is imagination and a script worthy of its cast, especially Kidder, who has a long, respectable pedigree in lighthearted roles ranging from James Garner's pal in TV's old "Nichols" series to Lois Lane in the "Superman" movies.

Kidder and Read go back and forth at each other, but are given bricks for dialogue and plot thin enough to slip under a door. Moreover, the production doesn't have enough style to ride out the rough spots.

Replacing the canceled "Twilight Zone" and shifted "Simon & Simon" in CBS' Thursday night lineup, "Shell Game" is the latest sacrifice to NBC's blockbuster tandem of "The Cosby Show" and "Family Ties." Hence, the future of bantering John and Jennie is tenuous.

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