She: "All I ever wanted, I think, was to be safe."
He: "Am I happier now? I don't know. Ask me in another three years."
You're not likely to be around in another three years, pal. And neither is your little honey-bunny.
"Once and Again," the dramatic story of two huggable cuddlies meeting and sharing a second-time-around romance, has estimable credentials, intelligent observations to make and earnest intentions from here to eternity. And back again. But like "thirtysomething," from the same producers, ABC's "Once and Again" (premiering at 10 tonight on Channel 7) is going to send some people running from the room, or at least racing for the remote, because it's several tads too "special"--full of itself, posed, artsy and so, so socially correct.
The characters could have stepped from the pages of a Pottery Barn catalogue. They're pretty, idealized and unreal, and however much we all deplore violence, you may feel a certain urge to smack 'em upside the head.
Sela Ward gives the show its compensating dignity, stature and whatever honest warmth it generates. She plays a woman who's been separated from her husband for eight months after 16 years of marriage. Cooling her fanny in the car pool line at school one day, she spies silly Billy Campbell as Mr. Right No. 2, whose marriage ended three years earlier.
This then is the story, written and directed by Marshall Herskovitz, of two divorced people trying to shed old ways and adapt to new ones, letting themselves be vulnerable again, reinventing their lives and talking themselves to death. Ward is a tremendously good actress, having proved that in "Sisters" and in a cable-TV movie biography of Jessica Savitch, but she and Campbell are required to deliver coy little black-and-white inserts in which they utter banal soliloquies to some off-screen listener, perhaps a friend, a psychiatrist or a very patient documentary filmmaker.
Somehow, the technique diminishes the characters rather than enhancing them or making them more dimensional. They become blabbermouths, even nincompoops, analyzing their every emotion and reaction. There are moments when "Once and Again" plays a like a continuation of those unintentionally funny old Taster's Choice commercials--remember, the man, the woman, the coffee?
There are also sudden flashbacks to remembered moments that are too reminiscent of MTV's "The Real World," perhaps the most awful-wonderful show on television and MTV's ultimate test of a viewer's gag reflex.
"Sometimes I listen to myself and I sound so incredibly boring," she says, and as written, she's right, she is. But he's even more so, because Campbell is not an involving kind of actor. He just seems a sappy suburban schmo. You can see what he sees in her, but it's much harder to understand what she sees in him. He's a study in sexlessness, too, so that she sounds foolish after their second date saying, "I was more amazed by my body. I wanted him so much."
Subsidiary characters include the divorced pair's children, most of them irritating in different ways. Herskovitz here and there strikes just the right note of rueful truthfulness, as when the couple first kiss between parked cars, hesitant, withholding, then bold and unfettered. But too much of "Once and Again" seems very fettered--prissy, pretty and precious. In the immortal words of Samuel Goldwyn, or was it Casey Stengel, "Include me out."
'The Mike O'Malley Show'
NBC Presents "The Mike O'Malley Show"! Starring the one and only Mike O'Malley! See Mike doing what only Mike can do, Mike at his finest, Mike at his Mikiest, Mike in all his--
Wait a minute. Who in the hell is Mike O'Malley? And why on earth hath he a show?
Only NBC executives know the answer to the second question. The answer to the first is that O'Malley does allegedly funny promos on ESPN, and of course all the people who appear on ESPN think they are funny, funny, funny. Just screamingly, side-splittingly funny. Dangerously, perhaps even lethally funny. If O'Malley is under that delusion, even he should be cured by watching the premiere of his sitcom, tonight at 9:30 on Channel 4.
There's nothing to it--nothing to like, nor even quite enough to hate. There's no there there. There's barely even air there.
Unfortunately for O'Malley, the show's gimmick of having him speak directly to the camera is the most overused of the new season, and he uses it right off the bat. But even without it, "O'Malley" would score a big zero.
The confusingly constructed pilot has Mike facing the crisis of a best friend's wedding (breaking up that old gang of his) and shrinking from commitment when a former amour returns to take up where they left off. He wants to be one of the guys like in all the beer commercials and sit around looking sloppy and watching sports on TV--not just sports but videotapes of old car races. It's a stereotype that has been overdone to pieces in innumerable other shows.
Supplying the only humor is Mike's grunge-ridden pal Weasel (Mark Rosenthal), whose dialogue unfortunately includes such lines as, "On the count of three, my hand is going down your pants." Don't ask.
Will Mike find happiness? Will Mike find contentment? Such questions are hard to answer and even harder to care about. Will viewers find Mike? That one's easier: If they're lucky, no.
CAPTION: The eponymous Mike O'Malley gets his 22 minutes of fame tonight on Channel 4.