CBS DEBUTS 4 NEW SERIES TONIGHT : THE FALL TV SEASON
CBS has an entirely new Wednesday night--two comedies, a comedy anthology and a violent adventure drama, all starting tonight.
While ABC (Channels 7, 3, 10 and 42) devotes three hours tonight to a documentary (“45/85") tracing the epic events of the last 40 years, CBS (Channels 2 and 8) presents three hours of unexalted “Stir Crazy,” “Charlie & Company,” “George Burns Comedy Week” and “The Equalizer.”
Having a documentary as competition on ABC will undoubtedly inflate tonight’s ratings for the new CBS lineup, which will probably get its comeuppance later when squeezed between NBC and fresh episodes of ABC’s Wednesday biggies, “Dynasty” and “Hotel.”
In any event, there’s good news and bad news. The good news is that none of the new CBS series will give you a fatal disease--or even dandruff. The bad news is that they probably won’t give you much of a kick, either, although the Burns-fronted half-hour has some promise.
Leading the night at 8 is “Stir Crazy,” with Joe Guzaldo and Larry Riley in roles similar to those Gene Wilder and Richard Pryor played in the theatrical movie.
Skip Harrington and Harry Fletcher are wrongfully convicted of murder and imprisoned. But the two wild and crazy pals escape and begin searching for the real murderer. Meanwhile, they are relentlessly pursued by Captain Betty (Polly Holliday), a wild and crazy cop who had a thing for the murder victim.
Is this zany or what?
Car crashes, shotgunnings, slapstick. You name it. Unfortunately, none of this is very funny. It’s unfair to compare Guzaldo and Riley with Wilder and Pryor, so let’s do it. The latter were not at their best in the theatrical version of “Stir Crazy,” but provided enough punch to make the movie at least watchable and occasionally amusing. And they also had chemistry.
Guzaldo and Riley have no chemistry. Nor do they appear to be very funny actors. Maybe it’s the material.
“Stir Crazy,” a pretty small act to follow, is followed at 9 p.m. by an even smaller act in “Charlie & Company.”
Labeling “Charlie & Company” a clone of that smash NBC hit “The Cosby Show” is unfair. The latter itself is essentially a black--albeit more intelligent--version of endless comedies about white middle-class families hassled by their kids.
As the “Charlie” in this insipid series, Flip Wilson is probably just as close to Robert Young as Cosby. He essentially is a father who knows best, although he takes forever showing it in the premiere.
His teen-age daughter, Lauren (Fran Robinson), wants to know if teen-agers should have sex. Charlie asks the guys at the office how he should respond. He and his wife (Gladys Knight) pass the buck until finally--Lauren could have had a family of four by this time--Charlie gives her some advice. About a minute’s worth, then it’s on to some more bad jokes.
The issue of teen sex is ineptly and incompletely handled. But aside from that, this is a comedy that just isn’t funny. You form your mouth in the laugh position, but nothing happens. You want to laugh, but nothing happens. The second show--about Charlie’s adventures as a public speaker--is funnier than the first show, and it isn’t funny either.
On the other hand, the 89-year-old George Burns gets laughs just by breathing. “When they asked me to do this show, I was a little hesitant,” he insists tonight. “I said, ‘What if the show’s no good?’ They said, ‘That’s never stopped you before.’ ”
Burns probably taped a season’s worth of intros and closes between cigar flicks at lunch. The story he fronts tonight (9:30) has that splendidly talented SCTV alum Catherine O’Hara wringing every possible laugh--and then some--from a slight story about a highly suggestible woman who becomes everything she hears. Tim Matheson plays a cop trying to help her. The half-hour is not great, but it’s diverting.
The evening’s funniest show on CBS, though, is a drama, “The Equalizer” (at 10 p.m.). Edward Woodward plays gun-blazing security specialist Robert McCall. The gray hair is a nice touch that balances out the trench coat.
McCall is soulful and sensitive. He finds time tonight to occasionally care about his 18-year-old son. McCall is also so tough that he can petrify a thug merely with his words. A nut is terrifying a client of McCall’s. “You’ve had your fun at the lady’s expense,” he snarls at the thug. “Now if I ever see you walking down the same street she’s on again, I will kill you. Leave the lady alone!”
Nice, huh? And the great thing is that the thug doesn’t leave the lady alone. He doesn’t believe McCall. You won’t either.