Half of the WB Network's prime-time series premiere Sunday night, beginning at 7 with Steven Spielberg's animated "Pinky & the Brain," which at least has possibilities.
The network's other arriving comedies--"Simon," "First Time Out" and "Cleghorne!," an undistinguished bunch starring stand-up comics--follow the former ABC series "Sister, Sister" at 7:30 and the 2-week-old "Kirk" at 8.
"Pinky & the Brain" follows the escapades of the two laboratory mice from Spielberg's "Animaniacs." Pinky (the voice of Rob Paulsen) is the gawky, gangling, guileless one, while the Brain (the voice of Maurice LaMarche) is the scheming, brilliant one who each week devises a plan to "seize control of the planet." A foolproof plan that inevitably fails.
His initial venture is somehow tied to voice mail, an ambitious plan that he hopes to finance by getting a job at a huge corporation and then faking an injury from which he would collect a fortune in worker's compensation. Sure.
The opener's animation seems tailored to kids, its script--with satirical references to megamogul Michael Eisner, comedian Gallagher, "American Gladiators" and lawyers who advertise on TV--aimed at adults. There's even a character who looks and sounds amazingly like Judge Lance Ito. Don't try this at home, kids.
It's all very nice, except that the humor is not very sharp.
This series is promising enough, and the "protagonists" are appealing enough to earn a following. But when Pinky and the Brain return to their cage, you can't help thinking about how funny it \o7 isn't\f7 to be a real laboratory mouse.
Or to be someone watching "Simon," a flat, unfunny trifle about a pair of single brothers in their 20s: the arrogant, apparently built-for-success former executive Carl (Jason Bateman) and the seemingly doomed-to-obscurity Simon (Canadian stand-up comic Harland Williams).
With Carl recently divorced, the two brothers plan to share digs. But Carl is plenty mad--and terrified--when Simon rents them a flat in a rough Harlem neighborhood and in a building that is run by an ex-con named John Doe (Clifton Powell).
Simon is oblivious, though. He's a cross between Spielberg's Pinky and Lenny in "Of Mice and Men." Yet, \o7 yet\f7 . . . .
It's Simon, not Carl who somehow gets hired as vice president of programming at a cable channel. A nincompoop in TV programming? No wit here but, at least, realism.
If Simon were a TV viewer, his favorite show might be "First Time Out," which stars comic Jackie Guerra--billed as the first Latina to star in her own series--as someone trying "to make sense out of being single and female in Los Angeles." Try making sense out of this half hour.
As a supposed Yale graduate, the show's Jackie character is a powerful advertisement for Harvard. This is one of those series in which just about everyone is an idiot. Jackie and her two roommates (Leah Remini and Mia Cottet), for example, either spend their time emersed in the singles scene or talking about it. That is, when the topic isn't Jackie's body fat, which--shades of early Roseanne--is the premiere's main source of punch lines.
The crisis presently confronting Jackie is whether to leave her roommates and get back together with her macho boyfriend, Mario. And if she does, will he want to change her, or will he love her, fat and all? There's about as much suspense here as humor. No matter Jackie's roundness, when it comes to comedy, her series borders on anorexic.
"Cleghorne!," meanwhile, has the distinction of being prime time's only series featuring two alumni of "Saturday Night Live."
One is comic Ellen Cleghorne, who is the center of this ho-hum series about a single mother and careerist whose worst nightmare becomes a reality when her parents and little sister move to the apartment next door.
The other is Garrett Morris, an original Not Ready for Primetime Player who, as Ellen's father, Sidney, is bequeathed the episode's few funny lines. Alaina Reed Hall is her overbearing, interfering, guilt-inducing, martyr-playing mother, whose antics grow wearisome. Sherri Shepherd is her flaky sister, Victoria.
Cleghorne has charisma, but not a lot of smoothness as a performer in sitcom. The rare pearls come in reference to family finances. It seems that Ellen's parents were forced to sell their graves to finance their move, while wisely retaining her father's collection of aluminum cans for their retirement. So when Victoria wants to make a purchase, Sidney is understandably irked: "We can't afford that, Victoria. What do you think, we're \o7 made\f7 of graves?"
It's a blip of fun in a mediocre comedy buried deep in a Sunday evening of unimpressive series.
\o7 * "Pinky & the Brain" premieres at 7 p.m. Sunday, with "Simon" at 8:30, "Cleghorne!" at 9 and "First Time Out" at 9:30 on the WB Network (Channel 5).