Shallow people, shallow show. "Wasteland," ABC's new and ever-so-aptly named drama series, offers up a "Friends"-like cast of characters who are nothing more than hollow shells masquerading unsuccessfully as human beings. They dribble and drabble around New York in ways designed to annoy even the most inattentive viewer.
In other words, just to have this show on in a room full of people playing cards and eating snacks would be intrusive. In only an instant, someone would be uttering that immortal American mantra, "See what else is on."
Chief nuisance among the principals is Marisa Coughlan as a 26-year-old would-be writer who in the first scene of tonight's desultory premiere (at 9 on Channel 7) spends a very long time getting rid of a guy who tries to pick her up in a bar. His mannerisms, perhaps by coincidence, seem somewhat reminiscent of President Clinton's.
Instead of giving him a simple and forthright brushoff, she launches into a laborious monologue about being a virgin that is designed not just to rebuff but to humiliate him. Then come the opening credits and the first scene, and there she is again, our virginal heroine, jabbering another blue streak about how troubled her generation is and what a good symbol of it she would make.
Seldom has a show taken less time to wear out its welcome. One longs for the verdant oasis of a nice entertaining long-distance commercial.
Writer Kevin Williamson, who's scored on TV with "Dawson's Creek" and at the movies with "Scream" and "Scream 2," is trying to wring blood from a turnip with this dreadfully self-absorbed series about equally self-absorbed people. They're so empty and dreary, they make the Stepford Wives look like the Algonquin Round Table.
Among the others in the group of late-twenties pals are a chilly-blooded assistant in the DA's office, played by the ever-posing Rebecca Gayheart; a hunky soap star who turns out to be gay (there's a shock for you), played by Dan Montgomery, and a lousy aspiring singer-songwriter played by Eddie Mills. And a Brad Pitt almost-look-alike named Brad Rowe as some sort of all-conquering lover boy who sets his sights on the heroine's virginity.
Talk, talk, talk. Jabber, jabber, jabber. How they do go on about themselves. "We're not in the same space," Gayheart says to a panting male. "You are powerless over your penis," another man is told. When the hunk sticks a toe out of the closet and says, "Actually, I'm gay" to a friend in a locker room, the friend freaks and grabs a towel. High drama, to be sure.
They've got issues, this group. Oh yes, they've got issues. Issues that they wave in each other's, and our, faces, yet issues that never amount to even half a hill of beans. The ensemble of castaways on "Gilligan's Island" had more wit, charm and sophistication. And even more depth.
Director Steve Miner sometimes divides the screen into sections in order to catch two or three people on the phone at once. In most scenes, though, they do their yammering face to face, poor things. If this group really does represent a generation, it's not just a lost one, it's a dead one. They may need the attention of therapists, but they certainly don't deserve the attention of a viewing audience faced with even one other choice.
Not even if that one other choice were "WWF Smackdown!," which actually is one of the alternatives. At least there, the conflicts are resolved with a bit of panache--comparatively speaking, of course.