'Married People': spicy language but little pizazz

September 18, 1990|By David Zurawik | David Zurawik,Sun Television Critic

There's another skirmish tonight on the battlefield of acceptable language in new network shows.

BEarlier this month, "Uncle Buck" and "The Trials of Rosie O'Neill" raised the issue of vulgarity with their attention-grabbing openings. In "Married People," which debuts tonight at 9:30 on WJZ-TV (Channel 13), it is the ending that contains the questionable language.

The new sitcom, starring Baltimore native Bess Armstrong, features three couples living in a brownstone building in a portion of Harlem that real estate agents are calling Central Park North and yuppies are gentrifying.

One of the couples consists of Elizabeth and Russell, played by Armstrong and Jay Thomas (a Los Angeles disc jockey). Elizabeth is an attorney who is pregnant and up for a partnership. Russell is a free-lance writer worried about getting old; he's 36 and writing articles for TV Guide. Both are white.

The other two couples are Olivia and Nick (Barbara Montgomery and Ray Aranha), an older black couple who own the building, and newlyweds Cindy and Allen (Megan Gallivan and Chris Young). Cindy and Allen are a pair of white 18-year-olds who have moved to New York City from Indiana so that he can attend Columbia University on a science scholarship.

A show featuring teen marriage has its own world of problems, but let's stick to the vulgarity issue.

The entire show is about married couples fussing and fighting and kissing and making up. At the end of the half-hour, Olivia and Nick are sitting in their kitchen after a fight. Nick recalls their wedding day on a Saturday in 1958.

"Olivia," he says, looking lovingly into her eyes, "you're as beautiful today as you were that Saturday afternoon."

"Nick," she says in a gentle voice, "You're a lying sonuvabitch, but Ilove you."

And that's the end of the show.

Give the show points for not ending purely on the kiss-and-make-up cliche. Give it points for having some real-life spice in it, although the use of language is ultimately a judgment call for individual viewers. Subtract points because the show fails to even acknowledge there are victims of gentrification.

Overall, "Married People" is not an especially funny, poignant or enlightened half-hour of television. It's mainly competent.

Armstrong, Aranha and Montgomery are all strong actors -- strong enough to carry Thomas, Gallivan and Young. But there is nothing really exciting about the show, certainly nothing that would make anyone go out of the way to watch it.

The best thing going for it may be its regular time period, hammocked on Wednesday nights between "Doogie Howser, M.D." and "Cop Rock." If "Cop Rock" is a hit, it could help carry "Married People" to acceptable ratings. But it's going to take more tart and smarts than the pilot offers before that final exchange in the kitchen.

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