TV Reviews : Goldberg, Stapleton Team in ‘Bagdad Cafe’

Whoopi Goldberg and Jean Stapleton are a match made in desert--parched and barren.

Their ample individual talents don’t really mesh in “Bagdad Cafe,” a new CBS comedy series based on and named after the theatrical movie “Bagdad Cafe.” It premieres at 9 tonight on Channels 2 and 8, followed by another new comedy, “Sugar and Spice,” which was not available for preview.

“Bagdad Cafe” finds Goldberg as Brenda, the agitated operator of an isolated roadside diner, motel and gas station in the Mojave Desert where the clientele is a sort of “Separate Tables” with tumbleweed.

Also on hand are her 16-year-old daughter, her musician son and, briefly tonight, her philandering husband, Sal (Cleavon Little). He is also the cook, sweating in the kitchen behind a wall of steam and his own cigarette smoke.


Early in the episode, Sal storms out after an argument with Brenda, which is a shame because their volatile exchanges are the only glints of humor in this first episode. Although Sal will resurface from time to time, it’s Jasmine (Stapleton) who is meant to be Brenda’s comedic partner, arriving on the scene after abandoning her obnoxiously tyrannical husband when their car breaks down in the desert.

Goldberg works hard and Brenda is the kind of likable, energetic character on whom a comedy can be built. However, the awkward budding friendship between Brenda and the well-meaning, super-tidy Jasmine not only doesn’t click tonight, it yields no laughs. More than merely an unlikely pairing, they’re an arid one.