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New Series: School Days, Fairy Tales

HOWARD ROSENBERG

March 19, 1987|HOWARD ROSENBERG

The week draws to a close with premieres of three series, two of them labeled comedies and the third a drama that returns Ed Asner to weekly TV as a tough--what else?--high school principal.

Tonight brings "Roomies" (at 8:30 p.m.) and "The Bronx Zoo" (at 10 p.m) on NBC (Channels 4, 36, 39), both debuting out of their regular time slots in a move to give them maximum early exposure.

In the case of "Roomies," that means initially following "The Cosby Show," America's most popular series. "Roomies" (to air at 8 p.m. Fridays starting March 27) is a comedy whose two central characters are clashing roommates in a college dorm. By traditional collegiate standards, each is a misfit. Nick (Burt Young) is a middle-age, tough-talking ex-Marine and Mathew (Corey Haim) is 14 and wide-eyed.

It's ironic that the premiere of "Roomies" should preempt "Family Ties," which next Thursday repeats an episode of its own about the seemingly awkward pairing of an older college student (in this case a 66-year-old played by Julie Harris) with teen-age Mallory Keaton (Justine Bateman).

If only tonight's "Roomies" matched the wise, bittersweet humor of the "Family Ties" episode. But it doesn't.

Nick is a potentially appealing character who's given a nice, rough-edged presence by Young. But Haim (who is spending his early career playing undersized, victimized students) gets a little tiresome as Mathew. Far worse, there is very little to laugh about (remember, the object is laughter?) in this cliched, toilet-joking half hour that traces Mathew's quest for romance. It turns out to be as futile as the show's quest for comedy.

Instead of college, it's Benjamin Harrison High School that awaits in "The Bronx Zoo" (whose regular time slot is 10 p.m. Wednesdays).

There's some Lou Grant in Asner's Joe Danzig, a blunt, stubborn, iron-fisted, hands-on, feet-on disciplinarian who comes out of retirement to become principal of a troubled, chaotic Bronx high school in a series created by "Family Ties" executive producer Gary David Goldberg.

The premiere is long on stereotypes and pat characters (the rich, privileged teacher played by Kathryn Harrold is inevitably repulsed by and then attracted to the poor, idealistic teacher played by David Wilson) and short on plausibility: After only two weeks on the job, Danzig has enough insight to identify 30 teachers who are slackers and order them to transfer.

Yet "The Bronx Zoo" is interesting and promising, possessing an appealing Hill Street Bluesy quality and a strong ensemble cast led by Asner, who is ever convincing as the very human Danzig.

By hour's end, tactless Joe has temporarily repaired his shaky marriage, but faces a rebellion from teachers and parents, a student lawsuit and an ultimatum from the school board that he turn Benjamin Harrison High around in a year or get booted. Which is more time than most TV series get.

That especially includes "The Charmings," an extremely dumb-appearing comedy arriving at 8 p.m. Friday on ABC (Channels 7, 3, 10 and 42).

It's like this: That nice married couple, Snow White and Prince Charming (Caitlin O'Heaney and Christopher Rich), and their two kids (Brandon Call and Garette Ratliff) and Luther their dwarf (Cork Hubbert) and Lillian their "wicked stepmother" (Judy Parfitt) and their "mirror, mirror on the wall" (Paul Winfield) are somehow transported 1,000 years in time to 1987, where they take up residence in suburbia and try to blend in with the yuppies.

When the neighbors drop by, they get this greeting: "Please come in. I'm Eric Charming and this is my wife, Snow."

The opener plays off of contemporary cliches. When Eric leaves home to find a job, for example, he puts on a suit of armor because he's heard that "there are people out there who will stab you in the back." When his wife rejects his amorous advances at night, he complains, "Honey, it's been a thousand years. A man has needs."

So does comedy, and this half hour rarely satisfies them, relying mostly on sophomoric one-liners that could turn \o7 viewers\f7 into frogs. The performances are uneven, with the best moments reserved for Hubbert as Luther and Parfitt as the evil stepmother. But not great moments.

The appearances of the world-class Winfield and Parfitt (a British actress who shone in "The Jewel in the Crown") in this gimmicky trifle are metaphors for the continued plight of blacks and age 45-plus actresses in an industry where grim reality replaces fairy tales.

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