ABC's new sitcom "The Faculty" does distinguish itself from the crowd in three areas:
- It has the most annoying laugh track currently on television.- One of its characters has what may be the worst Southern accent in the history of television.
- And its adult characters act more like children than most of the children on television.
In case you couldn't tell, "The Faculty," which debuts at 7:30 p.m. on Ch. 4, is not a good show.
Meredith Baxter both stars in and executive produces this half hour. She plays the improbably named Flynn Sullivan, the vice principal at a California junior high.
The show is indeed about "The Faculty," and the students play only minor roles - mostly as the butts of jokes.
"The problem is, there's too many kids, period. You see, when you vaccinate them, this is what happens," says English teacher Shelly (Constance Shulman), who also employs that dreadful accent.
This sitcom is way too sitcommy. Nothing rings even vaguely true; it's just a bunch of straight lines and punch lines strung together.
"Even after 20 years of apathetic students, hostile parents and a salary a bag boy would laugh at, somehow she still cares," Shelly says in describing Flynn.
"You can't prove that," Flynn responds.
The only laughter comes from that unbearable laugh track. And the worse the jokes, the louder that gets.
The rest of the cast includes a dimwit principal, his pit bull secretary, an idiot history teacher who's the show's resident Frank Burns, and an enthusiastic-but-naive new teacher.
They're all trapped in some parallel universe where sitcoms are so inbred that the producers and stars don't even recognize how lame, repetitive and derivative they are.
Grading "The Faculty" is rather easy - F.
VIOLENT "SWIFT JUSTICE": "Swift Justice" is the sort of show that makes the V-chip look like a good idea.
It's full of violence, questionable messages, violence and more violence.
This is not the sort of show any responsible parent would let their children look at.
"Swift," which debuts tonight at 9:30 p.m. on Ch. 14, opens with an exceedingly violent segment full of hand-to-hand combat, gunfire and explosions. Bodies are falling left and right.
In the first four minutes alone, nine people are gunned down.
And, mind you, this sequence has nothing to do with the rest of the show.
The rest of the show sets up the premise for the series. Mac Swift (James McCaffrey) is a New York City police detective who tends to do things his own way - whether his way is legal and ethical or not. Even his own partner, Randall Paterson (Gary Dourdon) is continually telling him to tone it down and not be so out of control.
Any resemblance between "Swift Justice" and reality quickly evaporates. Swift decides to take on a mobster whose enterprises include drug and prostitution. In the process, Swift falls in love with one of the prostitutes, sleeps with her, tells her he's a cop, and then ends his own career in law enforcement by avenging her death.
Not that this ends his search for justice. Now, he's going to do that outside the law.
In other words, the hero of "Swift Justice" is a vigilante.
Now there's an exceptional message to be sending out.
But back to the violence. In the pilot alone, people are beaten, shot and blown up.
In addition to those first four minutes, on person is beaten to death, at least five are killed in an explosion, and another guy is shot and killed.
In one particularly inventive bit of violence, a man is strung up in an empty warehouse and killed when the bad guy tees off on him - literally - battering the man with driven golf balls.
About the best you can say about "Swift Justice" is that the violence is relatively discreet, as opposed to the many ultra-violent R-rated movies in theaters today.
But this is very strong stuff for TV. The sort of thing that producers and networks should know better than to inflict on the public.
Maybe network wannabe UPN is still too young a foolish to have much of a sense of responsibility. But executive producer Dick Wolfe ("Law & Order") should know better.
And both owe the viewing public an apology.
("Swift Justice" will normally be seen Wednesday at 8 p.m., but will be seen at approximately 9:30 p.m. this week because of Ch. 14's coverage of the Jazz game.)
"JAG" IS BACK: For those of you who have been waiting to see another episode of NBC's "JAG," wait no longer - the series returns to the schedule at 7 p.m. on Ch. 5.
And not much has changed - except that the series' main character, Lt. Harmon Rabb Jr. (David James Elliott) is now a lieutenant commander.
Actually, the return episode harkens back to the series' pilot (and best episode), which took place on an aircraft carrier. Boone (Terry O'Quinn) is in trouble this time - he shoots down a Serb helicopter he claims was strafing the crew of one of his planes, who had ejected.
The episode is full of plausible politics and echoes of Capt. Scott O'Grady's ordeal in Bosnia. It's also full of stilted dialogue and a totally implausible sequence in which Harm - a naval lawyer, for goodness sake - is the one who attempts to rescue the downed pilot.
And parents should be alert to the fact that the show's climax is full of gunfire.
"JAG" has never quite lived up to the potential of that great pilot, but it is a show that deserves another chance - implausibilities and all.
FROM THE RUMOR MILL: Word is that Harry Smith is definitely out as co-anchor of "CBS This Morning," and Paula Zahn's position is positively shaky.
CBS News President Andrew Hey-ward told TV critics that the network's low-rated morning show was his top priority, and big changes have been expected.
In addition to looking for one or two new anchors, "CBS This Morning" will also reportedly lose its single-topic second hour and alternate between network-produced segments and locally produced segments during the show.
Rumors abound as to who may be replacing Smith and/or Zahn, but there's nothing concrete at this point. Word is that both Smith and Zahn will have other jobs at the network, if and when they lose their current positions.
TUBE NOTES: Mike Wallace was in town over the weekend, asking LDS Church President Gordon B. Hinckley a few follow-up questions for a future story on CBS's "60 Minutes."
And, no, that segment has still not been scheduled - despite the many unfounded reports you may have heard to the contrary.
- "Picket Fences" returns for its final three episodes of the season in mid-April. The first will air Monday, April 22, at 9 p.m. (pre-empting "Chicago Hope") and the other two will air Wednesday, April 24, at 8 and 9 p.m.
This is not a good sign in terms of the show's chances of returning in the fall.
- "George & Alana" is about to bite the dust. The show's syndicator has canceled it and it will cease later this month.
Which leaves KSL-Ch. 5 with a hole to fill.
- Dave Winfield, who wasn't always the most cooperative baseball player when it came to dealing with the press, is now going to be a journalist of sorts - he'll be a pregame analyst for Fox's upcoming major-league broadcasts.
Gee, wouldn't it be too bad if some of today's players didn't give Winfield a lot of cooperation?