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TV Review

'Pets' Misses Opportunity; Familiar 'Reunited' Moves In

October 27, 1998|HOWARD ROSENBERG | TIMES TELEVISION CRITIC

Having put its badly wheezing new "Mercy Point" on hiatus, struggling UPN is now filling that futuristic medical drama's time slot with a pair of series: "America's Greatest Pets" and a dog of a sitcom titled "Reunited."

Anything that celebrates animals can't be all bad. "Pets," for example, promises to honor the "special relationship" between humans and their companion animals. And some of the initial half-hour is genuinely nice, such as a segment on a compassionate vet who built a tiny cart that he attaches to a partially paralyzed cat he adopted. The cart's wheels fill in for the animal's useless hind legs, allowing it to lead a fairly normal cat's life.

On the other hand, the hosts of "Pets"--animal handler Jules Sylvester and former Miss USA Ali Landry, best known for her voluptuous appearance in a Doritos commercial--are so gratingly precious and cutesy that you'd like to hurl them in with the 3,000-pound female hippo whose three decades of captivity at the Sacramento Zoo the show celebrates in one of its segments. Defining a zoo hippo as a pet is a stretch.

There's a troubling side to another segment featuring a plumber with two pot-bellied pigs, one of which accompanies him on calls and supposedly is expert in sniffing out clogged drain pipes. It's just such stories that encourage adventurous types to acquire exotic pets that are often later discarded by them when the gimmick wears off.

"Pets" could be a valuable service and still fulfill its mission of having fun with animals if it bothered to inject some useful information and lobby for enlightened care of animals, such as having cats spayed. Instead, among the factoids it offers tonight is one about a cat that supposedly gave birth to 420 kittens, a feat that the studio audience applauds. But what happened to those 420 kittens, given that cat overpopulation is such a serious problem? Unfortunately, "Pets" is not the kind of show that would keep track or even care.

Speaking of overpopulation, there is "Reunited." One more chip off a mountainous block, this is yet another move-in comedy: Happy family's routine is shattered by arrival of outsider who needs place to live, causing awkward adjustment on both sides.

One day, a TV programmer will boldly push the envelope by creating a move-in comedy that has everyone liking each other. But not this day.

The interloper in this case is Joanne (Kelly De Martino), a tough, nose-ringed, loud music-loving, anti-establishment 21-year-old with an attitude; she appears unannounced at the home of square, loopy, ABBA-admiring, suburban mom Nicki Beck (Julie Hagerty) and claims she's her daughter.

It turns out that Joanne is the product of an affair, and that Nicki gave her up for adoption at birth. Nicki and her husband, Gary (Cliff Bemis), already have a smart-mouthed daughter, 7-year-old Ami (Renee Olstead). And besides, Gary and Joanne don't get along. Gosh, so what to do?

Have her move in, of course.

That's pretty much the premiere, a carelessly assembled half-hour (check out the changing position of Joanne's dress strap near the end of the episode) whose star, Hagerty, is especially cloying in this role, and whose few glints of humor are generated by Nicki's thieving brother, who stashes his stolen goods at her house.

Except for him, this series is also a good candidate for stashing.

* "America's Greatest Pets" premieres tonight at 9, followed by "Reunited" at 9:30 p.m. on UPN. The network has rated both of them TV-G (suitable for all ages).

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