It's not a moment too soon to think about deep-sixing "Number 96," NBC's spoofy, sex-minded serial, even through the program doesn't premiere until 10 o'clock tonight on Channel 4. The hour-long show, adapted from a long-running Australian soap opera, is slightly disgusting when it's talking about sex and just maniacally uninteresting when it isn't.
The program, a cross between "Mary Hartman" and "Dallas," is set at a Los Angeles apartment building where people have little to do besides covet, snare and apply massive tweaks to one another. It's a hotbed of quadrophonic monomania, and one hour's exposure to it proves more tiresome than irksome and certainly more enervating than titillating.
In the first hour -- written by David Lloyd, the MTM alumnus who helped adapt the show for American TV -- we meet a pair of newlyweds who flunked their honeymoon night finals; a British boutique owner who can't get rid of her live-in cop boyfriend; a combative married couple who agree to let each other roll about in extramarital hay; a conniving starlet who wants to break up the honeymooners and grab the hubbie for herself; and an on-the-air shrink who shows up after an earthquake dressed as a woman.
There are more bedroom scenes than in most TV shows and the married couple's game of change-your-partners is a sport not often dealt with in prime-time entertainment. And just as well, to tell from this gamy attempt; we're not exactly in Feydeau country here. After the wife has slipped into bed with a new tenant, and divested him of his boxer shorts ("aren't you just a trifle overdressed?") the husband nonchalantly walks into the bedroom. He shakes hands with his wife's new lover and leaves them with an "as you were."
A stab is made at reflecting changing sexual roles.Women are likely to grab men's fannies in this program or, as in the second episode (airing tomorrow night at 10) seduce a man, spend the night with him, then leave him the next morning without so much as a by-your-leave. Come to think of it, nobody gives by-your-leaves any more, do they?
Since the program tries to mingle drama with comedy, and since network executives think the public is too stupid to know when its leg is being pulled, some scenes are accompanied with a particularly anemic strain of canned laughter. The series is known around the network as NBC president Fred Silverman's "baby," but it's not a baby even right-to-lifers could convincingly defend.
The most pervasive character on the show appears to be Horace, the horny and pot-bellied retired Naval officer who letches about the premises. "Sodom and Gomorrah West," he proudly calls the building; "If you're looking for a lot of action, you've come to the right place." The cutie-laden pool is "a human smorgasbord," he says, noting that one bikinied woman "goes in for very heavy, kinky stuff."
Horace is a dirty old man with a warped view of life, love and sexuality. "I have the hots for the broad on the float," he remarks at poolside. "Look at her -- that body was made for black leather," he says of another woman. Obviously Horace is meant to represent a sick element in our society: wthe kind of Hollywood mentality who'd make a show like "Number 96.'