As slick and solid as the show may be, it's hard to become ecstatic over NBC's "Third Watch," a new drama about urban perils from former "ER" producers John Wells and Christopher Chulack. There's nothing particularly wrong with the show; maybe there's just not enough right with it.
Certainly tonight's premiere (at 10 on Channel 4), which NBC calls a "special preview" because the show will subsequently air at 8 p.m. Sundays, is as eventful as an hour of TV can be, crowded with characters and catastrophes. That's part of the problem--a lack of breathing space, and little chance to get to know anybody.
On the other hand, the energy and suspense levels are consistently intense. You can't watch this show while leafing through People magazine.
The title refers to paramedics, cops and firefighters who work the 3-to-11 p.m. shift in New York, called upon to rescue babies from burning buildings, track down a peeping Tom dressed as a clown, or locate the hit-and-run driver who ended the life of a 6-year-old girl. As with "ER," blood flows freely, people and things are in almost constant motion, and gallows humor keeps the gallant pros from having nervous breakdowns every five minutes.
Kim Raver as Kim Zambrano and Bobby Cannavale as Bobby Caffey are the star paramedics, but obviously this is an ensemble show. Making one of the strongest impressions is Jason Wiles as "Bosco" Boscorelli, a very hotheaded cop who is not above grabbing a quickie with a female co-worker in the back of an ambulance.
Meanwhile in another subplot, fat cop Skipp Sudduth is extremely and strangely rude to his new partner, a rookie played by Coby Bell. Since the rookie is African American, the older cop comes off as racist, but there's some dialogue about how he once lost a young partner and doesn't want another one dying while in his care. In any case, it's unfortunate Bell has to play a cop who is a naive klutz.
The language is often raw, and not inappropriately, but what happens when the show moves to Sundays at 8? It seems an odd hour for a program that brandishes harsh words and ultra-gritty realism. Why not air it Tuesday nights at 10? Perish the thought, for there's another episode of NBC News's junky-clunky "Dateline" sitting there. After all, it only airs umpty-two times a week!
NBC's programs aren't so bad, but its programmers sometimes appear to have flipped their wee little lids.
'Stark Raving Mad'
No no no no no. "Stark Raving Mad" simply will not do. Will not do what? Will not do diddly. It's an unfunny sitcom with unbearable characters stuck in a singularly unpromising situation.
Likable Neil Patrick Harris, forever to be labeled the onetime "Doogie Howser," returns to episodic TV in the NBC series, premiering at 9:30 tonight on Channel 4. But the character he plays is a whiny, wimpy hypochondriac, a fussbudget who carries around a hand-sanitizer spray and spritzes himself after he touches anybody else. He may be patterned on Niles, Frasier Crane's brother on "Frasier," but somebody forgot to make him funny.
Worse by far is swarthy Tony Shalhoub as the Stark of the wordplay title, the madcap author of horror books who enjoys playing imbecilic and morbid practical jokes, like pretending to be hanged from the rafters (a steal from the cult comedy classic "Harold and Maude"). Shalhoub is all wrong for the part, but he should be proud of that because the part's putrid.
Harris is sent over to the author's apartment by his publisher, who thinks the writer needs special care and handling so he'll keep cranking out bestsellers. The publisher, named Audrey, gets to utter one of the first offensive lines on the show, telling Stark, "I'd kiss you goodbye but you know my lips have been on your [derriere] for the past half-hour." The adjective "friggin' " is also part of the dialogue, and the show's big bowwow laugh, so to speak, occurs when Stark's little dog humps Harris's little leg.
Series writer-creator Steven Levitan gets this week's Has No Shame award. As for director James Burrows, who directs more comedy pilots each year than anybody else, he should start thinking twice before taking on these assignments. Does he have any standards of taste whatsoever? Of course, these days, standards of taste are quite an impediment to people who want to work in network TV.
Stash those defibrillator paddles, shut off the heart-lung machine and 86 the oxygen tank: "Chicago Hope" is not worth keeping alive. This horrible, cynical CBS medical show should have been allowed to expire last spring, but instead, series creator David E. Kelley came back to try very artificial respiration.
Many of the old cast members are gone but the setting remains the same, a Chicago hospital where the doctors are cranks, jerks or prima donnas. "Chicago Hope," at 9 tonight on Channel 9, is just the show for people who feel insufficiently terrified at the prospect of ever having to be admitted to a hospital.
Kelley likes to shock us, doesn't he, so the re-premiere tonight includes the case of a 52-year-old man who arrives at the hospital with a severe injury to the groin. He has been, one might say, dismembered.
But that's not enough for Kelley. We also have to find out that the man's phallus was not sliced off but bitten off. And that the man is a priest besides.
Bruce Davison does the best acting job on the show as a surgeon whose negligence and fondness for Internet stock trading results in the death of a man who'd come in merely for liposuction.
That wonderful, wonderful actress Veronica Cartwright plays Caren Flanders, the dead man's wife, but Kelley and company have her accepting the news of her husband's death with unbelievable nonchalance. She hangs around the hospital for what seems like a week before it dawns on her that she should call a lawyer and sue for malpractice.
Barbara Hershey joins the cast as Francesca Alberghetti, an apparently coldblooded surgeon (on this show, coldbloodedness reigns supreme). The definitively insufferable Mandy Patinkin returns for a guest shot as Dr. Jeffrey Geiger, who at first refuses to perform a life-saving operation on a 7-year-old boy because he wants to sit in his office and play with electric trains.
Facing an inquiry from the staff, Davison blows up and calls them "pompous, arrogant, hypocritical bastards." How true, how true. Who needs them? None of the patients on "Chicago Hope" seem quite so sick as the show is.
CAPTION: Playing New York paramedics in "Third Watch" are, from left, Bobby Cannavale, Anthony Ruivivar, Kim Raver and Michael Beach.
CAPTION: Neil Patrick Harris, left, and Tony Shalhoub are "Stark Raving Mad" for appearing in NBC's offensive and unfunny sitcom.