Only in sitcom-land does a funny, neurotic journalist on the staff of a successful Chicago monthly wind up sitting just across the aisle of the airplane from a scrappy former teacher who wants to become a writer.
Of course, he'll help her land a job at his magazine. Otherwise, we would have no series.Someone should start a consulting firm that specializes in advising so-so shows to avoid titles that only enable unkind reviewers to take easy potshots. This one cries out to be called "Anything But Laughs." "Anything But Funny." "Anything But This."
Unfortunately for unkind reviewers, Anything But Love (8:30 p.m., Ch. 4) does have laughs - a few, and almost all provided by comedian Richard Lewis, whose lines sound suspiciously like part of his stand up act.
Lewis plays Marty Gold, a nervous flyer who paws through the seat pocket for the emergency instruction card - "Barf bags, gifts, death . . . "
Jamie Lee Curtis, who apparently has no stand up routine from which to draw, is stuck with staff-written deadly earnestness as a former inner-city educator Hannah Miller who aspires to inspire the world with her way with words. She just split with her boyfriend and hangs all her hopes for the future on landing a research job at Marty's magazine.
Marty helps her because she held his hand and evoked scenes of Paris when he panicked as the plane hit turbulence. This is sitcom-land, remember? In the real world, those who clasp strangers' hands and evoke scenes of Paris prompt the summoning of authorities.
Back in Chicago, Marty can only get Hannah in the door with Mean Editor (Louis Giambalvo). Once inside, Mean Editor means to banish this bimbo by making the job contingent on whether she can complete the "impossible" task of writing a 1,000-word article on the silly question of whether Chicagoans prefer corn or flour tortillas - gasp! - overnight.
Hannah's ex-cop pop (Bruce Kirby), who aspires to be a painter, doesn't understand his daughter's quest for an entry-level career change. But he does provide a blue-collar straight man for more of Lewis' lines: "Bowling - isn't that where you throw rubber at wood and get to wear other people's shoes?"
Marty gives Hannah the inspiration to complete the assignment. She turns in her work to Mean Editor and waits while he peruses it behind closed doors. When she wonders what's taking so long, catty senior writer Pamela Peyton-Finch (Sandy Faison) gets off a rare non-Lewis funny: "Because he loves it and is savoring every word. Or he hates it and is making copies to show his friends at parties."
Does plucky Hannah get the job? Does this so-so comedy have at least a six-episode pickup by the network?
- Elsewhere on television:
THE WRIGHT WAY - Laconic comic Steven Wright has an artfully odd half-hour short on HBO this month. "The Appointments of Dennis Jennings," premiering tonight and airing throughout the month, is a visual version of Wright's absurdist one-liners, couched in a paranoiac black comedy.
Wright co-wrote the comedy with Mike Armstrong. British comedian Rowan Atkinson plays Dr. Schooner, Dennis' distracted psychiatrist, who makes doodles of himself strangling his patient while Dennis explains such childhood traumas as the "moodswingset" his parents installed in the backyard. Laurie Metcalf ("Roseanne") plays, Emma, Dennis' boring girlfriend. "I don't know if she's pretty, or just looks pretty," Dennis complains.
When Dennis watches television, he sees a guy sitting in a room watching him. His fish live in the ever-dropping water level of the humidifier reservoir. Emma turns up in the background of a local TV news report - kissing Dr. Schooner.
Dennis veers from fantasy to reality and back again until he's apprehended and accorded the perfect punishment for possible psychiatristicide.
"The Appointments of Dennis Jennings" is very funny, very weird, and very nicely directed, in color and black-and-white, by Dean Parisot.