"The John Larroquette Show" has the potential to be prime time's next great comedy series, one whose bluesy humor springs like a gusher from the pathos of contemporary urban life. It arrives at 9:30 tonight on NBC (Channels 4, 36 and 39), before moving to its regular 9 p.m. Tuesday slot.
As a newly recovering alcoholic trying to repair himself as night manager at a wreck of a bus depot in a dismal section of St. Louis, the gifted Larroquette puts his smarmy "Night Court" attorney Dan Fielding far behind him, this time artfully playing a layered character with transcendent possibilities.
Drinking, says John Hemingway, "is the only thing in my life I've ever been good at." And drinking, in addition to street people and other colorful characters, is what surrounds him in this stressful purgatory that constantly tempts him to fall off the wagon. In the second episode, singer David Crosby shows up as someone who chairs Alcoholics Anonymous meetings inside the bus terminal's bar.
Not that this is even close to being a one-note, anti-boozer series, though, as the premiere finds Hemingway seeking to avoid the fate of his predecessor in this crime-ridden neighborhood. "He died in his sleep," says the bus depot's brazen ticket seller, Mahalia (Liz Torres). "Never even felt the bullet."