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COUNTERPUNCH

Networks heed voices and follow the leader

October 13, 2003|Ralph Cohen

Television networks are desperate for successful sitcoms this season, which seem to be in short supply. So it stands to reason they would copy CBS' highly touted "Joan of Arcadia."

In the new series, God appears to a high school student, Joan, in a variety of forms, such as a TV newsman or a local teenager, and each time has a cryptic message that alters Joan's life.

Not to be outdone, the other networks are developing their own sitcoms with otherworldly communications.

Here's a rundown:

'Suzy in Seattle'

WB, Monday, 9:30 p.m.

Suzy Renaldo, a freelance writer in her 30s, has an on-again, off-again relationship with her computer. Sometimes it works fine and other times, for no apparent reason, it crashes. The people at Microsoft can't tell her what's wrong. Even more disturbing, when the computer malfunctions, she gets intimidating messages: "You have performed an illegal operation." "Your addresses had fatal errors." "You don't have enough memory to perform that function," something her father always told her. She is convinced that these are messages from God, and they force her to reexamine her life. Still, she finds it satisfying that the Big Guy is watching over her. She doesn't know what God looks like, but she knows his first name. It's Bill.

'Taming the Tigers'

ABC, Monday, 8:30 p.m.

As the dismal Detroit Tigers continue to lose, dead baseball legends appear to Desi Lopez, an advertising copywriter, telling him how to improve the team. But none of their ideas -- such as a take-a-skunk-to-the-ballpark day -- pan out. Adding to the tension, Desi's brother, Bernardo, is a priest who has the annoying habit of seeing a moral victory in every Tiger loss.

'Phil of Philly'

NBC, Tuesday, 10 p.m.

Phil Harrigan, the CEO of a major bank, hears divine voices in trashcans, a different one each day. He picked up this phenomenon when bullies tossed him into a dumpster when he was a young child. Now the voices tell him to do questionable things, such as give false earnings reports or provide insider stock tips. He plans to use this "trash talk" as his major line of defense if he ever gets caught. Meanwhile, his mother, Gwendolyn, is head of the city's vice squad, and they keep running into the same trash cans. Phil has to constantly make up phony explanations: "I'm looking for that character on Sesame Street" or "You never know when you might find another Academy Award in one of these."

'Catching Calvin'

UPN Saturday, 8 p.m.

Calvin Moran, a postal deliveryman in Corpus Christi, receives cryptic messages throughout the day, such as notes stuffed in his mailbag or a snide remark from a waitress he's never seen before. For some reason, perfect strangers know his business and tell him what to do: He should be nicer to his wife. He shouldn't leave his dog outside all night. He should split his inheritance with his sister, Melissa, with whom he doesn't get along. Melissa, a hairdresser, is actually the unwitting source of these messages. She constantly blabs her complaints about her brother to customers, who in turn try to set Calvin straight. But Calvin thinks the messages are from Beyond.

'Louie of Fresno'

Fox, Friday, 9:30 p.m.

Louie Smith, a retiree, is one of the millions of Americans who did not sign the National Do Not Call Registry to ward off telemarketers. Hence, he is bombarded with callers every night who tell him what he needs. He doesn't understand how they find his number or how they know such details as what he owes on his mortgage. Like most Fox viewers, he has a short attention span and doesn't read, so he is at a loss to stop the telemarketers. In each episode, a call leads him to do things he never intended, such as vacation in Bali or join a singles search, with hilarious results.

*

Ralph Cohen writes the online humor column Finger to the Wind at fingertothewind.com. He lives in Seal Beach.

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