'Dream On' may be flakiest series on TV


August 03, 1991|By John J. O'Connor | John J. O'Connor,New York Times News Service

Steadily gaining a sitcom audience for Home Box Office, "Dream On" may well be television's flakiest series, as becomes evident with further samplings.

Martin Tupper, whose psyche was molded by television when he was growing up in the 1950s and '60s, is offered as a contemporary Everyman: divorced, trying to maintain a connection with a son in his early teens, struggling to salvage a smidgen of dignity as an editor of questionable romance novels, all the while being bombarded with flashes of black-and-white scenes from the television shows and old movies of his childhood.

Martin's best friend is his ex-wife, Judith, who has married a candidate for a Nobel and countless other prizes. Coping with a sneering secretary and a string of beautiful but out-of-kilter girlfriends, Martin does a lot of nervous smiling. Brian Benben has an amiable stranglehold on the role.

Tomorrow at 10 p.m., in an episode titled "Futile Attraction," Martin confesses to Judith (Wendie Malick), who is a psychiatrist, that he has developed a sexual-potency problem. She suggests that he see an analyst named Dr. Klein (Martin Mull), who turns out to be a compulsive smoker and is not amused when Martin says he objects to smoking during their sessions.

Martin pours out his heart. Dr. Klein, surrounded by bowls of hard candy, begins puffing frantically on his pen.

Leaving the doctor's office, Martin meets Elaine (Gina Hecht), and after using the Heimlich maneuver to save her from choking on a sourball in an elevator, falls in love.

As it turns out, Elaine is going through analysis with Judith, who knows that she is a borderline schizophrenic with a history of violently attacking her sex partners. Should Judith tell the truth to the smitten Martin? Would he simply dismiss it as a jealous ploy?

The ball is in motion and the game is played out to its wacky conclusion, which includes a glimpse of Ronald Reagan intoning in a rotten movie that "each day is too good to waste being afraid."

With John Landis and Kevin Bright as executive producers, "Dream On" enjoys venturing into offbeat, often sensitive territory. The show has its weak spots, most notably in its tendency to be smarmy. "Futile Attraction" is dotted with scenes of Martin in bed with topless women. (This may be the first series to proclaim publicly almost every week that it has a breast fetish.)

And a good many of the old television clips are used for double-entendres that are sometimes less witty than painfully obvious. But "Dream On" takes unusual chances and has a habit of turning out to be refreshingly original.


Telecast live from Havana today at 1 p.m. is the Pan American Games, a quadrennial event taking place for the 11th time. Expected through Aug. 18 are more than 5,000 athletes from 39 nations of the Western Hemisphere. Only the Olympics, traditionally held a year later, are bigger in scope.

ABC (Channel 13) will cover the daytime competition on weekends; TNT will offer evening coverage Mondays through Fridays, in addition to Sunday broadcasts after ABC. Tomorrow: men's basketball and men's and women's marathons.


"Paul Rodriguez: Behind Bars" airs Sunday night at 10 on the Fox Network (Channel 45). The bars belong to the cells in San Quentin prison in California. Mr. Rodriguez performs his stand-up comedy act and then interviews some of the prisoners, who talk about how they wound up there and offer some advice on how to stay out, stressing education. Also on the entertainment bill are Ice-T, the rapper, and James Stephens 3d, another comedian.

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