Crime is made cute in "Baker's Dozen," a rickety new comedy premiering as a limited series on CBS tonight--and limited it is. The show, at 9:30 on Channel 9, follows the whimsical life-and-death adventures of a New York undercover squad; it does itself in with sitcom cliche's, racial stereotyping and a boorish insensitivity that wants to be mistaken for chic cynicism.
The cute criminal is a street thief who shows up in the second half and robs people of their wallets--such a caution!--but is really A Good Egg. Meanwhile, the team is trying to get the goods on a knife-wielding psycho who likes to cut women. While "Hill Street Blues" can mix the horrifying with the absurd and come up with jaundiced, or shattering, realism, here the juxtapositions are clunky and cheap.
Among the refugees from other sitcoms who wander in are the bitch boss, this one a woman captain who is made up to look something like Lotte Lenya in "From Russia With Love." Perhaps just as hoary, as cliche's go, is the squad's black member, a jivey duderoo named O.K. Kelly (Alan Weeks), who tells his girlfriend on the phone, "You just put on the new dress, mama, the one that looks like it's movin' even when you're standing still" and has exit lines like, "I'm out the door/gone for sure/won't be back no more." Of course he puts more body English into all of this than Luis Tiant ever put into a pitch. Is this kind of characterization all that far removed from Lightnin' or Calhoun on the "Amos 'n Andy Show?"
Ron Silver and Cindy Weintraub play the show's paltry excuses for a Daniel J. Travanti and a Veronica Hamel. That Silver's character seems blatantly incompetent as a cop proves not very funny when his girlfriend is being strangled by the psycho. The program was "created" by Sonny Gross, an ex-New York cop, and was shot on location in New York, but all claims of authenticity collapse once the show itself begins.