"Herman's Head" is a morality play for the television age. And after a few minutes' watching the sitcom's age-old gimmick play out, you'll understand why the days when morality plays were hot entertainment now are called the dark ages.
The Fox series, which premieres at 9:30 p.m. Sunday (Channel 45), runs on two tracks. One features actor William Ragsdale as Herman, a twentysomething guy trying to make it in the publishing world. The other features several actors who personify emotions and impulses inside his head.
So, for example, just as Herman is deciding how far he should go physically with his date, the scene shifts from his sitting on the couch with a young woman to a room with four actors -- representing such feelings as decency and hedonism -- arguing about his next move.
Why does this approach fail?
Maybe it's just that Herman's interior and exterior lives are so booooooooooooring. Or maybe it's that the cardboard virtue-and-vice characters are even more one-dimensional than most bad sitcom figures. Or maybe it's just a stupid concept -- using actors for various states of mind.
The notion of exploring ethical dilemmas in a sitcom is itself not a bad idea. It can serve a valuable social function when done with skill and subtlety, as in, say, "All in the Family." In "Herman's Head," though, it's obvious, tedious and vacuous.
Besides Ragsdale, who is a passable TV lead, the cast inside Herman's head includes: Molly Hagan as Angel, who provides moral virtue; Rick Lawless as Wimp, the voice of anxiety; Peter Mackenzie as Genius, Herman's intellect; and Ken Hudson Campbell as Animal, the hedonist.
Hedonism here is played as a lovable pizza-chomping slob of a couch potato. Sad to say, it's the most interesting thing about this show.
Can "Herman's Head" be fixed? Not short of a lobotomy.