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An Overall Setback for Prime-Time Viewers

Practically everyone in prime time is adjusting to something.

Hence, “Brand New Life” is not merely the name of tonight’s inane NBC movie about a widower with three children and a divorcee with three children whose marriage to each other causes adjustment problems for their respective families. “Brand New Life” is a title that also applies to three other network series premiering tonight.

In the inept CBS comedy “The People Next Door,” a widower and his two children awkwardly adjust to life in a small town with his new wife and her sister. Fox’s uncompelling “Alien Nation” finds Earthlings awkwardly adjusting to inhabitants from another planet. And the funny CBS comedy “The Famous Teddy Z” is about a former mail-room worker’s awkward adjustment to life as a big-shot talent agent.

Meanwhile, even viewers with short attention spans may have difficulty adjusting to the video dots and dashes of tonight’s fourth premiere--the syndicated “After Hours.”

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“The People Next Door” arrives at 8:30 p.m. (on Channels 2 and 8), introducing us to cartoonist Walter Kellogg (Jeffrey Jones) as he arrives in town with his two kids (Chance Quinn and Jaclyn Bernstein) for his marriage to psychologist Abigail MacIntrye (Mary Gross).

Typical of television, Walter and baby-voiced Abigail have had a whirlwind courtship of only eight weeks, giving her belated doubts. “Nervous? Why should I be nervous? Instant wife, instant mother, instant breakdown.” Instant panic if she knew Walter’s terrible secret--that when he’s nervous, his wild imagination becomes reality:

The mirror on the wall speaks. A stuffed moose head speaks. Steve Allen suddenly appears, plays the piano and, unfortunately, speaks. A troll-like little man looks up women’s skirts and speaks. Unfortunately, nothing they or Walter or Abigail or her snippy sister (Christina Pickles) speak is very amusing, a critical flaw in a comedy.

“It’s truly embarrassing,” Walter’s young son exclaims. “Everything you imagine comes to life.” Everything but this show.

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And speaking of curious life forms. . . .

“Alien Nation” gets a two-hour debut at 8 p.m. (on Channels 11 and 6), hereafter to air at 9 p.m. following the returning “21 Jump Street,” as Fox adds a third night to its schedule.

The inspiration for writer-producer Ken Johnson’s story is the 1988 theatrical movie of the same title. But despite that title and science-fiction aspirations, “Alien Nation” is mostly a routine humanoid in extraterrestrial clothing and a heavy-handed metaphor for earthly social injustice.

It’s 1995. Three years after crash-landing in the Mojave Desert, aliens that act like humans, talk like humans and look like humans with melon heads are being tenuously blended into Earth society.

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Echoing the racism that greeted the black civil rights struggle, alien integration brings out the worst in some humans, as the epithet slag surfaces as a companion to nigger . There’s rumbling--even among some blacks--about aliens bringing down property values when they move into the neighborhood, talk of excluding them from human schools and of permanently denying them the vote.

With this as a background, formulaic TV rears its familiar head as Los Angeles police Detective Matthew Sikes (Gary Graham) is assigned a new partner in George Francisco (Eric Pierpoint). Sikes resists. He is human, Francisco alien. Even worse, Sikes is a hot-tempered maverick, Francisco calm, cerebral and strait-laced. These guys get along? No way. Meanwhile, there’s a mystery--the missing body of a suicide victim whose face was covered with ooze.

Actually, “Alien Nation” is covered with ooze. For one thing, it’s about as subtle as an AK-47. For another, its aliens lack interest because--except for looking a little different and humming like tuning forks when engaged in sexual foreplay--they’re almost human clones. Unlike other minorities, they seem to have no qualities peculiar to their own kind. After only three years, they have adopted our values and speak perfect English. An exception is Francisco’s insolent teen-age son Buck (Sean Six), a reverse racist who hates Americans and refuses to speak their language. “Wasaka tomi-lo!” he snorts.

Kids!

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The real aliens surface in “Brand New Life” at 9 p.m. (on Channels 4, 36 and 39), two hours of absolute idiocy from executive producer/writer Chris Carter that serve as the premiere of a limited series opening the new season of “The Magical World of Disney.” Three additional episodes will air at 7 p.m. Sundays, starting Oct. 1, and another two are unscheduled.

Barbara McCray (Barbara Eden), who works in a restaurant and attends court-reporting school, meets attorney Roger Gibbons (Don Murray). She’s poor. He’s rich. She’s a divorcee with three nice kids. He’s a widower with three spoiled kids. A month after meeting, he proposes (without consulting his kids) and she accepts (without consulting hers).

Like their countless movie and TV predecessors, the two families will merge under the same roof. But first the preliminaries. A scene at Roger’s ritzy country club pitting one set of grossly overdrawn and stereotypical characters against another--the snide and snobby rich versus the sincere and virtuous poor--is just pathetic.

Soon, the future bride finds herself facing problems that even a moderately intelligent person would have anticipated before getting engaged. A suddenly panicky Barbara to a friend: “Do you realize I’ll be the mother of six?” Friend to Barbara: “This has just occurred to you?” Exactly.

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Although it couldn’t possibly get any worse, it somehow does on the couple’s honeymoon--a disastrous camping trip taken with the six kids, by the end of which all conflicts magically vanish. If only “Brand New Life” would.

The brand-new life in “The Famous Teddy Z” belongs to Teddy Zakalokis (Jon Cryer), who zooms from mail-room gofer to talent agent in this promising comedy from “Frank’s Place” creator Hugh Wilson. It airs at 9:30 p.m. (Channels 2 and 8).

The only mail-room worker at Unlimited Talent Agency in Beverly Hills who doesn’t want to be an agent, Teddy seems a sure bet to join his family’s bakery business, which would please his Greek grandmother (Erica Yohn). Instead, a bizarre twist lands him a job representing a superstar who is the agency’s biggest client, much to the dismay of the star’s present agent, the high-powered Al Floss (Alex Rocco).

Cryer plays his cleverly written role to the delightful hilt. And although Rocco is too broad as Floss, Yohn is appealing as the grandmother and Wilson’s script flows with fun. “What they make at this company?” a puzzled Granny asks Teddy about his new employer. “They make telephone calls,” he replies.

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And some laughs.

Capping this evening’s newcomers is “After Hours,” a show for viewers who find “Entertainment Tonight” too taxing.

Airing weeknights at 11:30 p.m. on KTTV Channel 11, it’s flash cards, a teletype with pictures, something akin to quickly thumbing through a magazine without reading the articles. Or as supervising producer Jeff Androsky says in a press release about the high-speed, youth-oriented magazine show, it’s “zapless” television that relieves you of the burden of using your remote control:

“On ‘After Hours,’ it’s all there and you don’t have to worry about changing channels. It’s literally done for you.”

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If the premiere is typical, you don’t have to worry about thinking either. The quickie stories range from “After Hours” field reporter Heidi Bohay (“Hotel”) giggling at comedians Penn and Teller on Times Square to Cher finally telling all: “Who am I? I’m a person trying to do the best I can do. That’s who I am.”

Viewers who want to find out who Cher isn’t can tune in Tuesday for the second half of this “exclusive interview.” Meanwhile, the beat goes on.

Wasaka tomi-lo!


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