Not every fan of the old "Cagney & Lacey" show will love "The Trials of Rosie O'Neill," the new CBS drama series starring Sharon Gless and premiering at 10 tonight on Channel 9. But for some, the prospect of Cagney without Lacey is a very attractive one.
Gless is again at her dusky Glessian best in the new show, which is designed primarily for a female audience but which lots of men will enjoy as well. And don't write me angry letters; it was created with women viewers in mind, part of the CBS Monday night counterprogramming against football.
Fiona Rose O'Neill, our heroine, is 43, coming off a nasty divorce, tired of her job as an Armani-jacketed corporate lawyer in Beverly Hills, and anxious to refocus her life. In the premiere, she starts a new job in the public defender's office representing indigent clients -- the first, a homeless mother who left her dead baby in a dumpster behind a supermarket.
Rosie parks her $80,000 Mercedes five blocks from the office and walks to work because she doesn't want coworkers to think she is flaunting her wealth.
Despite the built-in air of noblesse oblige -- a reflection, perhaps, of behind-the-scenes Hollywood Liberal Guilt -- Gless makes Rosie seem down-to-earth and genuine. It's hard to imagine Gless playing anybody who wasn't. She and the part are a perfect fit.
This is established in the opening scene, one signaling a recurring motif -- Rosie spilling her guts to her (uneen) psychiatrist. The first line of dialogue is Rosie telling the shrink she is thinking about having her breasts "done," but she uses a four-letter word for breasts.
"I don't think I want them any bigger," she says. "They're a nice size, actually. I just thought maybe I'd have them fluffed up a bit."
So there you have it. Yet another new era in television.
Among the foils and nemeses designed by producer Barney Rosenzweig (who also did "C&L") and writers Beth Sullivan and Joe Cacaci, foremost is Dorian Harewood as Hank Mitchell, the slightly surly shirt-sleeves lawyer who doesn't like Rosie's highfalutin background but is forced to share an office with her anyway.
"You don't belong here, lady," he says, but by the end of the first episode, he's already softening a little. Harewood is a top-notch actor and he keeps Hank from being a cliche even when the script is nudging him in that direction.
Comic relief is served up in the person of Jo-Jo "Gags" Gagliardi, played by Louis Mostillo, whose greeting to Rosie consists of, "You got a head? I gotta water my horse." (Another new era in television?) Georgann Johnson plays Rosie's rich and disapproving mother, whose visit to the office includes the observation, "This isn't law. It's street cleaning."
Outside, on the courthouse steps, Rosie gets to deliver her big speech to mom. "Everybody's burying their heads in the sand, saying it's somebody else's job," she says. "We'll, it's my job now. And my choice. And I like it." To undercut the grandiosity, the writers have a gaggle of street people mockingly applaud.
Heather Fairfield plays Louise, the impoverished mother -- a subtle and haunting performance. The other extreme, Johnson as the rich mom, surmounts stereotype too. Cast in the tiny role of Barbara Navis is Bridget Gless, Sharon's niece. And waiting at home is Doug Wert as Steve, Rosie's bare-chested boy-toy.
This gal is full of surprises.
That doesn't mean there's a lot about "Rosie O'Neill" that is unpredictable. But precedent strongly indicates viewers do not want lots of unpredictable television. They want something comfortable, something reassuring, something they can curl up with. "Rosie O'Neill" is eminently curlable.
Tonight, the opening Motown tune sung on the season premiere of "Murphy Brown" is sung by Murphy (Candice Bergen) herself. It's "I'm Gonna Make You Love Me." And perhaps she is.
Or perhaps she already did.
The opener, at 9 on Channel 9, is called "The 390th Broadcast" because it also marks the 13th-season premiere of "FYI," the fictitious network magazine show on which the characters of "Murphy Brown" work. Miles Silverberg (Grant Shaud), the executive producer, has nasty news for everyone. An image consultant is being brought in to hip-up the show.
There is additional bad news: The consultant is played by walking wet blanket Harry Shearer, fine as a voice on "The Simpsons" but adding absolutely nothing to the comedy quotient tonight. He may even subtract a few points.
In addition, the episode's attempts to take a stand, albeit satirically, against the spread of sugary infotainment seem a little pious. Miles, upon coming to his senses after a disastrously made-over "FYI" airs, makes a speech in which he declares, "We cannot talk down to people. If we do, we train them to accept very little." Don't the producers of "Murphy Brown" realize that that speech is talking down to people?
And, what -- they're "training" us to accept nothing but the best, I suppose?
It really would have been better to start out the season with an all-out laugh riot, relevance be darned. Even so, one mustn't be too crabby about this, because it is a funny episode.
Shaud used to be the most underrated actor in the cast, but now that mantle has been passed to Charles Kimbrough as anchor Jim Dial, who complains loudly tonight (and convincingly) about what a bore it was sharing a summer house in the Hamptons with the Andrew Rooneys.
The season premiere of "Cheers" airs Thursday on NBC. It's about 19 times funnier than this season premiere of "Murphy Brown." But that's still not a bad showing for Murph. She does know how to brighten up a Monday.