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HOWARD ROSENBERG / TELEVISION

With 'Pauly,' Fox Pushes Limit, Totally

March 03, 1997|HOWARD ROSENBERG

"Are you going to give it to me or am I going to have to take it out myself?"

--Dawn snuggling up to Edward in Fox's "Pauly"

*

Television's infant content ratings are an especially hot topic these days, getting a sharp going-over last week in Congress and in newscast after newscast. So, naturally, some of us were deciding what would be an appropriate rating for tonight's opening episode of the wretched Fox comedy "Pauly."

TV-GR (this program contains gratuitous raunch) would work.

Unfortunately, that rating doesn't exist. So Fox went for TV-14 (this program may contain some material that many parents would find unsuitable for children under 14 years of age).

Actually, the "Pauly" premiere deserves the stronger TV-M (this program is specifically designed to be viewed by adults and therefore may be unsuitable for children under 17), the same rating applied to NBC's recent 7:30 p.m. showing of "Schindler's List."

The difference is that "Schindler's List'--even while deploying extreme graphic violence, frontal nudity and vile language to depict the obscenities of the Nazi Holocaust--is not offensive.

"Pauly" is.

That's so, even though "Pauly" is nothing more than a trivial 9:30 p.m. sitcom that gives stunningly untalented Pauly Shore (at best an acquired taste) his first shot at heading a series, one whose relentless, cheap, mean-spirited, unfunny sex jokes and double-entendres would earn only a few column inches of trashing if not for the timing of this senseless, gross material.

Fox can be faulted for airing "Pauly" under any circumstances. What's astounding, though, is that it's doing so precisely when television is again being loudly deluged by accusations of foulness. It's almost as if Fox were hoping to taunt and further incite its critics by lowering its drawers and mooning in prime time.

Some history:

Fox is obviously doing some things right. To its credit, it's always been known for taking creative risks from which ABC, CBS and NBC shrink. And its programming strategies (yielding such popular series as "The X-Files," "Beverly Hills, 90210," "The Simpsons" and, most recently, "King of the Hill") have lifted it ever closer to parity in prime time with the other major networks. The network has been especially successful in attracting African Americans and the 18-to-49 and 18-to-34 age groups that are most coveted by advertisers. And Shore is no stranger to the youth crowd, having appeared in a string of cretinous movies with pre-pubescent appeal.

Moreover, "Pauly" is hardly the first Fox comedy to soar on the raunch-and-insult scale, its most renowned predecessor in that category being "Married . . . With Children."

Whatever its failings, however, "Married . . . With Children" has always matched bad with good, whereas "Pauly" instead promises only tenacious banality.

Shore here is lazy, shiftless, developmentally challenged adult Pauly Sherman, who is royally teed off that his widowed industrialist father, Edward (David Dukes), has moved his bimboesque fiancee, Dawn (Charlotte Ross), and her irritatingly precocious 10-year-old son, Zachary (Theo Greenly), into the Brentwood family manse. Also in the vicinity are a wisecracking housekeeper named Sumi (Amy Hill) and Pauly's doofus friend, Burger (Kevin Weisman).

Pauly labels Dawn a fortune hunter; she labels him an asinine twirp. He's possibly right, she definitely is.

At first he mistakes her for a masseuse, and she plays along. Her: "Why don't you relax, Pauly? You're in my hands now." Him: "Oh, that's good. Usually I'm in my own."

*

Then it becomes total war, the anatomy jokes coming in a barrage. Her: "So you see in this situation, I have a leg up." Him: "Only one?" Her: "I have bras that work harder than you." Him (pointing to her micro-miniskirt): "Your bras may be workin', but it looks like your panties took the day off."

So did the brains of the Fox executives who inexplicably swooned over this series created by Stan Zimmerman and Jim Berg (who wrote the famous lesbian kiss episode on ABC's "Roseanne"). Its adult-impersonating-an-adolescent theme was earlier explored by Fox, minus the sex and snideness, in "Get a Life," a 1990-92 comedy about a 30-year-old newsboy that flopped despite the presence of Chris Elliott, a comic actor infinitely more gifted and creative than Shore.

Just where "Pauly" goes from here is hard to say, but Fox says it will be going there minus the TV-14 and instead with a softer rating of TV-PG (this program may contain some material that some parents would find unsuitable for younger children).

In other words, in future episodes Dawn may wear her panties.

* "Pauly" premieres at 9:30 tonight on Fox (Channel 11).

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