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TV REVIEWS : A Pair of CBS Premieres: A Case of Pure Summer Lite

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

As a top-flight forensics examiner, Cheryl Ladd immediately distinguishes herself from her less leggy TV predecessors.

“I won’t even mention my dead body,” she assures her date after a hard day’s work.

“Your body looks anything but dead to me!” quips he.

Jack Klugman, eat--or maybe that should be carve--your heart out.

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With “One West Waikiki,” writer-producer Glen A. Larson rather transparently looks to combine the premises of two of his most successful shows, “Quincy” and the Hawaii-set “Magnum, P.I.” It’s a male-female antagonistic-romantic buddy movie of a series, with Ladd examining the corpses that wash up on the Hawaiian beaches and her partner-in-crime-solving, Honolulu cop Richard Burgi, helping investigate who was at the giving end of the homicides.

Tonight’s two-hour premiere is ludicrous from the hula girls and car explosions in the opening credits to the start of a beautiful friendship implied in the final freeze frame. But before she meets her match, Dr. Dawn (Holli) Holliday (Ladd) is introduced visiting Hawaii to strike up an old romance with a lieutenant boyfriend who’s working on a mysterious case. (She even gets buck naked with him in the opening scene: Make that “One West Ooh-la-la!”).

When the former flame turns up a “suicide” mere hours after admiring her live body, she unofficially takes up his case, with the very begrudging help of Mack Wolfe (Burgi).

And you haven’t lived till you’ve heard the case: Military jets are used to fly in young Asian women who were fathered by American servicemen during the war; these gals get beautifying plastic surgery and sugar daddies in return for donating healthy kidneys to the black market, but are turning up dead in droves. Perpetrating this scheme is the owner of an all-female bodyguard service, Laura (Julia Nickson), a dragon lady whose sinister haughtiness could be straight out of a World War II propaganda picture.

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Still, the Asian stereotypes are at least laughable, which can’t be said for the gratingly jocular, adversarial banter between the two leads. Creator Larson, who ought to have known better, has gone foolishly overboard in setting Burgi up as a slick, loutish, sexist rogue cop for sensible Ladd to butt heads with. Early on Ladd calls Burgi “an arrogant jerk”; by premiere’s end, she’s changed her tune, and we haven’t.

*

“I saw Donna Mills do this on ‘Knots Landing,’ ” says one of the fetching females in tonight’s premiere of “Hotel Malibu,” a CBS summer pickup series that aspires toward being Aaron Spelling Lite. There’s no pier in sight along this stretch of beach, but this is definitely Knucklehead’s Landing.

Our show opens with three gals in various levels of distress, all of whom will soon end up at the titular Best Western wanna-be: There’s Stevie (Cheryl Pollak), a strong-willed redhead who quits her New York ad agency job to head back to L.A. and work at her family-owned hotel. There’s Nancy (Romy Walthall), the enterprising blonde--and the aforementioned Donna Mills admirer-- who’ll scam or sleep with anybody to get a break. And there’s Melinda (Jennifer Lopez), a wholesome Latina who’d like to get ahead on something besides her frequently admired legs.

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Waiting for this fresh blood to arrive at the Hotel Malibu are Stevie’s virtuous mom (Joanna Cassidy, fair-haired these days) and scheming brother (John Dye), who together are planning to sell the hotel, for very opposite reasons. Also on board is earnest bartender Harry (Harry O’Reilly), who strikes a romantic spark with Stevie in a broken-down service elevator and lets loose hint of the dastardly reasons behind the hotel’s imminent sale.

Few among the cast bring much in the way of credibility to their exceptionally thin roles (with the exception, maybe, of Harry as Harry). And having a Latina as one of the three female leads doesn’t seem like such a breakthrough once you realize that she, too, veers comfortably close to stereotype, albeit relatively positive stereotype--the fiery yet virginal Latina at proud odds with her macho, overly protective papa. Such progress.

As the premiere gets sillier and sillier--especially with a comic bait-and-switch subplot involving the corpse of a corrupt city commissioner killed by hot sex--the undemanding summer viewer may find it all about as unenrichingly painless as a watered-down daiquiri around dusk, going down easier than it ought to. Just so long as it’s out by checkout time--that is, the beginning of the fall season.

* “One West Waikiki” premieres tonight at 8, followed at 10 by “Hotel Malibu,” both on CBS (Channels 2 and 8).

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