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A Wobbly Start, That's for Sure

Howard Rosenberg / Television

THE NEW TV SEASON * One in a series

August 25, 1997|HOWARD ROSENBERG

Talk about stumbling from the blocks. The 1997-98 television season opens this week with three new UPN comedies that are prime time at its flat-out dumbest and unfunniest.

For example, tonight's "Good News" isn't.

And Tuesday's back-to-back "Hitz" and "Head Over Heels" boldly serve immediate notice that they are serious contenders--no others need apply--for worst comedy of the season.

"Good News" would be, too, if not for its music. "Gospel means good news," young David Randolph (David Ramsey), new acting pastor of the Church of Life in South-Central L.A., counsels his choir members in hopes of energizing them.

Energy this comedy has. Unfortunately, it also preaches the gospel of infantile humor and buffoonish characters, some of whom are low-end "Amos 'n' Andy."

Elements of "Good News" recall creator Ed. Weinberger's former brush with TV religion in the NBC comedy "Amen," which pitted a scheming church deacon against a newly hired minister with good intentions, much like the one in tonight's series.

Taking over for the church's beloved founder in "Good News," the earnest Rev. Randolph immediately faces a rebellion by entrenched church staffers who resent him, followed by a crisis concerning a young gay parishioner and his tyrannical battle-ax of a mother (Roz Ryan), who happens to be the church cook.

The resolution is absurd, as are Randolph's way, way, way over-the-top fluttery, jealous secretary (Rose Jackson Moye for the premiere only), his tarty new youth director (Alexia Robinson) and his hip-hopping new janitor (Guy Torry). Caricatures really hit the fan on this series, which, like "Amen," targets eccentricities of black churches, but exaggerates everything else in such extreme that satire is not even a possibility.

When "Good News" sings, though, watch out. It's rousing, swaying, rocking, throbbing stuff. So turn up the music, turn down everything else.

*

Still worse is "Hitz," whose doofus protagonists, Robert (Rick Gomez) and Busby (Claude Brooks), are struggling to keep their jobs in Los Angeles at Motownish HiTower Records, where they're surrounded by cartoon-like supporting characters and are under extreme pressure from company president Jimmy Esposito (Andrew Dice Clay) to find cutting-edge new talent capable of delivering hits.

Their pursuit of rap star Coolio, who makes a cameo appearance, is the adventure that drives the pilot.

"Hitz" is loaded with double-entendres, oblique references to penis size and other unfunny, crude swipes at sexual humor. Meanwhile, there are lots of sexy babes on the HiTower premises to act as foils for Clay's chain-smoking, swaggering, ruthless, boorish bully of a character (a real acting stretch for him). Wiping from his mouth the acrid taste of playing a homespun hubby on the late CBS comedy "Bless This House," Clay is now back to playing the foul bad boy who gained him infamy as a stand-up comic.

Jimmy to HiTower's staff attorney, a female: "So . . . where's the coffee?"

So . . . where's the wit?

*

Well, you hate to play favorites. Break out the bubbly, however, for as bad as "Hitz" is, "Head Over Heels" is even more qualified for worst-of-the-season honors. Beware! Just reading about it may lower your IQ.

This is Chick Chasing 101, a series that gets its title from a video dating service operated in South Beach, Fla., by the Baldwin brothers, Warren (Mitchell Whitfield) and Jack (Peter Dobson). Don't expect logic. This is the kind of matchmaking operation that attracts gorgeous, busty female clients in tight skirts. You know, the kind who can't get dates on their own?

Warren, the more stable of the brothers and sort of a dumpling, is himself an Energizer Bunny under the sheets, so devastating in bed that his voluptuous girlfriend breaks up with him because "you've ruined me for any other man." Jack, an idiot playboy who wields a head of hair that could impale an elephant, hits on every female who comes through the door, including a voluptuous blond whom Warren ends up sleeping with.

Meanwhile, the place has a voluptuous receptionist-office manager (Cindy Ambuehl), a voluptuous romance counselor working on her PhD (Eva LaRue) and another romance counselor (not-voluptuous Patrick Bristow) who has given up his life as a "sexual omnivore" to concentrate on being snide.

Meanwhile, "Head Over Heels" parades a bunch of skimpily clad, leggy babes down a fashion-show runway and spews one cheap sex joke after another. Even after re-shooting the pilot and eliminating the Baldwin brothers' cavorting bimbo of a mother (Connie Stevens), this remains the mother of all asinine sitcoms, a show with as much weight as a G-string.

Raise those glasses.

* "Good News" premieres at 9 tonight on UPN (Channel 13). The first episode is rated TV-PG (may not be suitable for young children), but subsequent episodes will be TV-G (all ages), the network says.

* "Hitz" premieres Tuesday at 9 p.m., followed by "Head Over Heels" at 9:30 p.m. on UPN. Both are rated TV-14 (may not be appropriate for children under the age of 14).

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