You wouldn't invite the Thorns over but you really ought to think about inviting "The Thorns" in. ABC's darkly sparkly new comedy series, premiering tonight at 9 on Channel 7, has a distinctive, engaging nastiness about it. No one will mistake "The Thorns" for "The Charmings." But then, hardly anyone has ever seen "The Charmings."
The Thorns are a scrappily married couple living in daffy affluence and managing to embody all the wrong values: specifically, those most popular in the 1980s. They are facile, self-centered, materialist status seekers. They would go see "Wall Street" and root for Gordon Gekko.
And yet one is hard pressed todetest the Thorns. In their bumblingly grasping way they seem victims of a mass con job, one that has claimed many a conquest. They're actively trying to be boorish and insensitive, and every now and then, they fail. These fleeting moments are their nominal redemption.
When the Thorns learn that Mr. Thorn's mother's apartment has burned down, Mrs. Thorn's first reaction is, "She's not moving in here." Later she chastises her husband for feigning concern: "You couldn't care less if your mother was in a hotel or a ditch." And the husband responds, "Yes, but how would it look?"
He has earlier taken the step of eliminating (as in, from the face of the earth) Sam, the family dog, because he feared he might socially misbehave at a chic cocktail party he and the missus are throwing that night. The children wish their father would behave more like Bill Cosby. The father explains, "Bill Cosby is a fictional character."
Newsweek has proclaimed the '80s to be over, the decade having allegedly expired during that 500-point drop in the Dow Jones, and if so, some of the satirical bite of "The Thorns" has gone a trifle gummy. But the show still has a refreshingly snide side, and the opening script, by series creator Allan Leicht, comes at you in ways that most situation comedies don't.
In addition, John Bowab's direction uses portable video as it may never have been used on a sitcom, especially in the opening scene when the camera seems to be whooshing all over the Thorn house, from room to room and back again. "The Thorns" floats like a vertiginous butterfly and stings like a vindictive bee.
Mike Nichols is credited as executive producer of the series, but his name seems to have been stamped onto it the way Ralph Lauren's name is stamped on sheets and pillowcases. One suspects he functions more as imprimatur than as guiding force.
The cast is exceedingly swell. Tony Roberts, of innumerable Woody Allen movies, plays Sloan Thorn, crass public relations whiz; Kelly Bishop is his manipulative wife, a convivial conniver. Each is cheating with a member of the household staff: dad with frisky Cricket (Lori Petty), an au pair girl, and mom with an interior decorator. No one, however, trifles with Mary Louise Wilson as Toinette, the frowsy French maid.
Wilson manages to make a mere "oui," uttered always in a tone of justifiably derisive hostility, a very funny line. She certainly sets a new standard in the leveling of withering gazes.
Adam Biesk, Lisa Rieffel and Jesse Tendler play the children, with Tendler the most sympathetic as 7-year-old Edmund (Chad, 16, wears a T-shirt that says "Name Your Price"). Edmund has formed an understandable alliance with brash grandma Rose, played with hale mettle by Marilyn Cooper.
Grandma and Edmund help give a viewer characters with whom to identify. But the writer and director do seem to have located the tiny little soft spot that makes even the other Thorns, for all their calculating abrasiveness, more lamentable than despicable. They're the kind of people who will be rude and snobby to their Chinese neighbors even while decorating their benefit for the Asian Society with artsy photos of orphaned Cambodian children.
"These pictures are heartbreaking," says a guest at the party.
"Thank you," says Mr. Thorn.
One must respect, if not love, a TV comedy series whose premiere episode is called "Death and Transfiguration" and which opens and closes with a tart Kander-Ebb theme song, "We're All Right," that includes the exhortation, "We've upped our income, so why don't you up yours?"
"The Thorns" is comedy with a vengeance. The comedy and the vengeance are both very entertaining.
Ron Reagan may indeed be a good sport, but he is a lousy actor. His Cinemax Comedy Experiment, "Ron Reagan Is the President's Son," premiering on the pay-cable channel at 9:30 tonight, is so lame and belabored it suggests that Ron is making a bid to become the Billy Carter of the Reagan years.
One might have thought Maureen had that title all sewn up. But here is a new contender, Ronnie with the Nancy eyes, flitting feebly through a self-indulgent bore.
Not precisely a delectable object where a camera is concerned, Reagan tries to saunter through the half-hour spoofing himself and the public's image of himself, though in truth the public has better things to do than even to have much of an image.
In the instantly stale script by Penn Jillette (of Penn and Teller, the smug magicians) and Eddie Gorodetsky, Reagan plays himself, the president's son and the host of a "Good Morning America" clone called "Up and At 'Em, USA," and a dead-ringer look-alike called Skippy Derick Jr., dread biker-about-town.
There are a few references to the first family, as when Skippy recalls a weekend of fun with Dad on a handy Harley and holds up a leather jacket embroidered with the presidential seal and the slogan "Helmet Laws Suck." Reagan also dances, sort of, in a fantasy sequence set to "Jailhouse Rock." It is shot and edited so as to make a viewer ill.
By this point in the show, that's the height of redundancy.