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HOWARD ROSENBERG

CBS' 'Snoops' Outshines Other Series Making Debuts

September 22, 1989|HOWARD ROSENBERG

Three series premiere head to head at 8 tonight. CBS' "Snoops" is the most likable newcomer in a season that's not very likable. NBC's "Baywatch" is the soggiest. ABC's "Family Matters" is one of the most forgettable. It's about . . . uh . . . uh. . . .

Well, it's not about a housekeeper who is a witch. That's the subject of "Free Spirit," another ABC comedy getting a special premiere later tonight in advance of its regular Sunday debut. On a 10-point scale, it rates one broomstick.

This is becoming one of those seasons in which a new show that's merely pleasing stands out as extraordinary. That's the case with "Snoops" (8 p.m. on Channels 2 and 8), which introduces the husband-and-wife investigating team of Chance and Micki Dennis (husband and wife Tim and Daphne Maxwell Reid).

He's a criminology professor, she's assistant to the State Department's deputy chief of protocol. He likes the plain life, she prefers glamour.

As urbane amateur sleuths, Chance and Micki are rooted in Dashiell Hammett's Nick and Nora Charles of "The Thin Man" and Jerry and Pamela North of "Mr. & Mrs. North." Like the Norths, Chance does much of the investigating, Micki much of the solving. And like the Charleses, Chance and Micki investigate crimes because sleuthing is in their blood.

They take their cue tonight from one of Chance's students, whose re-examination of an old murder convinces him that the police blew the case. The identity of the killer is not really the point, however, for it's style, not plot, that's emphasized in this breezy, diverting hour that Chance spends wrapped around Micki's finger.

They're a charming pair, and the Reids are smooth and adroit. Yet "Snoops" is one of those shows that's nice the way it is but could be much better. The edges are a little too soft, the wit and dialogue not quite sharp enough.

As Chance says when Micki wants them to go dancing, "This fox ain't trottin." Not yet, anyway.

On the other hand, "Baywatch" (8 p.m. on Channels 4, 36 and 39), isn't even treading water. The scene is Malibu, where tonight two reckless power skiers cause the drowning of a young woman, spurring head lifeguard Mitch Bucannon (David Hasselhoff) and fellow lifeguard Craig Pomeroy (Parker Stevenson) into action. What Bucannon doesn't know is that the two power skiers are older friends of his 12-year-old son, Hobie, who has been cutting school to hang out with them.

The main purpose of "Baywatch" is apparently to celebrate Los Angeles County lifeguards and the Pacific. Although the sights are beautiful, the premiere is less a story than a seascape, lacking the dramatic intensity and credible characters necessary to sustain an hour. Bucannon is not very plausible, but he's rock-solid compared with Pomeroy, who is described as a successful lawyer who only moonlights as a lifeguard.

You suspect that the creators of "Baywatch" are lifeguards moonlighting as writers.

The comedy "Family Matters" premieres at 8:30 p.m. (on Channels 7, 3, 10 and 42), about the time the Dennises are just starting to do their best bickering and Mitch Bucannon is telling little Hobie to cool it with playing hookie.

The family crisis is far more severe, however, in the household of Carl and Harriette Winslow (Reginald VelJohnson and JoMarie Payton-France), where Carl's pushy mother (Rosetta LeNoire) has moved in at the request of Harriette.

And now mother Winslow is driving them crrrrrr azy , something that you might have expected Harriette to foresee before she invited her in. Is this major-dilemma time or what?

Carl (pouting): "Harriette, Mama's sittin' in my chair!"

Harriette (pouting): "I don't know what you're complaining about. She insulted my meat loaf before I even took it out of the oven!"

And those are the big laughs.

If only someone could make mother Winslow disappear. Someone can--but unfortunately she's in another ABC comedy, one even dumber than "Family Matters."

That would be "Free Spirit," arriving at 9:30 p.m. before assuming its regular 8 p.m. Sunday time slot. Combining the worst of "I Dream of Jeannie" and "Bewitched," "Free Spirit" takes place in the home of divorced attorney Thomas Harper (Franc Luz) and his three kids, including 10-year-old Gene, who feels ignored.

So who should appear in his room--poof!--but Winnie the witch (Corinne Bohrer), who not only giggles a lot but also becomes the family housekeeper. But only the kids know she's a witch.

Her first day on the job she lectures the businesslike father on parenting. She tells him: "This family's one kid short." Pause for dramatic effect. "The kid in you." Lump in throat. Emotional moment. In the next scene, the father is taking his kids bowling. Oh please!

Winnie doesn't do windows. Unfortunately, she doesn't do comedy either.

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