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TV REVIEWS / THE NEW SEASON : 'Mommies' Not Dearest of Three Comedy Premieres : TV REVIEWS : 'Mommies' Not Dearest of Comedy Premieres

September 18, 1993|HOWARD ROSENBERG | TIMES TELEVISION CRITIC

NBC's "The Mommies," one of three new comedy series arriving this weekend, is at least more amiable than Ma Barker, but the network's stale Parisian baguette, "Cafe Americain," is a movable beast. And Sunday on CBS, the romancing protagonists of "It Had to Be You" stand on their heads--literally--to get laughs.

It's Roseanne Arnold who personifies prime-time's newest hybrid, the stand-up momic. And it's "The Mommies" that proves two Roseannes aren't necessarily better than one.

Premiering at 9 tonight on Channels 4, 36 and 39, "The Mommies" extends to sitcomdom the stand-up team of Marilyn Kentz and Caryl Kristensen, two former Petaluma neighbors who decided to transform their homemaking, lovemaking and kid-making adventures into a comedy act. They did, and then TV came calling.

"The Mommies," which resumes next week in its regular 8 p.m. time period, locates Marilyn and Caryl (they retain their given names for the series) in a battleground of a suburban cul-de-sac where they pop in on each other, socialize and wisecrack their way through the frustrations they experience as middle-class wives and mothers. If nothing else, "The Mommies" is a compelling argument for staying single.

Some of the humor has snap. To this unglamorous pair, for example, starting dinner means calling Domino's Pizza.

Yet this noisy minivan does not always travel smoothly, as too many of the one-liners--which virtually never cease--rattle around like loose ball bearings. Nor does the constant frantic bickering wear well in this microwaved milieu of fast foods and frozen dinners.

It's possible that after enduring similar ordeals themselves during the week, millions of viewers will see "The Mommies" as a source of comedic commiseration, and applaud. Either that or this will be the Saturday-night fever they want to flee.

*

"Cafe Americain" (at 9:30 tonight, thereafter at 8:30) marks Valerie Bertinelli's sitcom return. She's Minneapolis divorcee Holly Aldridge, who fulfills her lifelong dream by moving to Paris, leasing a flat and getting a job in a legendary cafe frequented by a jam of characters who apparently are meant to imbue this witless half hour with humor.

But right away, problems. The flat (horrors) has no direct view of the Eiffel Tower, and Holly gets hit on by a lusting male, because this is. . . .

PAREEEEEE!!!!

For someone who has not lived her adult years in a cave, Holly is incredibly unsophisticated, if not flat-out simple-minded. And in a cute little touch, she's also incredibly whiny. To say nothing of bubbly--so very, very bubbly.

The premiere proceeds laboriously, attempting, among other gambits, to spin comedy from people speaking in thick accents. But like just about everything else here. . . .

Eees not funeee.

*

She's a publisher, he's a carpenter. Her world is literature, his is lumber.

In the real world, they'd pass like ships in a thick fog. But this isn't the real world, this is television.

So they fall in love.

CBS has bequeathed "It Had to Be You" the gift of love by letting it premiere at 8 p.m. Sunday (on Channels 2 and 8), on the tail of that ratings whale, "60 Minutes." Its regular time slot is 8 p.m. Fridays.

"It Had to Be You" has some class, it has some laughs, but most of all (thanks in part to executive producer David Steinberg's direction), it has style. This is hardly an endowment that can underwrite an entire season, but it is one sufficient to sustain your interest at least for the time being.

Despite the far-fetched premise.

Faye Dunaway is Laura the publisher, Robert Urich is Mitch the carpenter, summoned to her swanky Boston office to do some repairs. One thing leads to another, and soon they're playfully standing on their heads against the wall, drawing snide wisecracks from Laura's man-devouring assistant, Eve (Robin Bartlett).

When Laura tells Mitch her credenza has a broken leg, he replies: "Have you considered shooting it?" What sexually frustrated, middle-aged career woman wouldn't fall for a line like that?

As it turns out, Mitch is a carpenter with soul and sophistication ("I know this great lobster place. . . ."). He's also a widower with three sons, and what these guys need around the house more than anything is. . . .

A WOMAN!!!

Even one as domestically inept as Laura the publisher.

Ironically, "It Had to Be You" in some ways mimics the kind of predictable, formulaic fare that drove the cynical programming executive Dunaway portrayed in Paddy Chayefsky's devastatingly satirical "Network" to seek outrageous alternatives. But style. Think style!

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