Close but no cigar for 'Princess,' 'Commish'


September 27, 1991|By Michael Hill

Imagine, for a moment, the pitch meeting -- the one in Hollywood during which a producer tries to persuade CBS Entertainment president Jeff Sagansky to buy his idea for a new series.

"OK, Jeff, it's something like this," the producer must have said. "Three women live in a New York penthouse apartment and act silly. What do you think?"

The amazing part is that Sagansky responded, "I'll buy it!"

And thus did "Princesses" come to CBS' schedule, making its debut tonight at 8 o'clock on Channel 11 (WBAL).

Clearly, the idea behind "Princesses" is to have a platform for telling stories about being single and female in the big city, but without dragging the comedy into reality.

So this ridiculous premise was born. One woman, Tracy Dillon, is about to get married and learns that a friend of her intended will allow them free use of his New York penthouse for a year.

But when Tracy goes to look at the place, accompanied by her roommate, Melissa Kirschner, they find another woman already in residence, an actual princess from off the coast of England, Ms. Georgina de la Rue of Scilly.

It turns out that her prince died and his family is trying to take away her inheritance. The owner of the penthouse also promised her that she could stay there.

Before tonight's half hour is up, Tracy's wedding plans run afoul at the altar and our all-female trio is happily ensconced in their posh digs for at least 13 weeks -- the number of episodes CBS has ordered.

Barry Kemp, who was behind "Newhart" and "Coach," is the creator of this, and "Princesses" has the same sort of low-key, fairly funny stuff that rarely challenges the mind or social conventions. Though there's no Bob Newhart here, the material is aided by a good cast.

Julie Hagerty is Tracy, a remedial-English teacher, and she pretty much reprises the ditzy, literal-minded type that brought her to comedic prominence in the "Airplane" movies. Twiggy Larson, better known as Twiggy, plays the real princess with a pleasant naivete, while Fran Drescher as blunt-talking Noo Yawker Melissa will probably steal much of the funny stuff for herself.

If you don't ask for more from your favorite series than a few fairly mindless chuckles, then "Princesses" might fill the bill.


Take a good character and put him in a lame show peopled by cliches and what you get is a waste of a good character.

That's the thumbnail review of "The Commish," the latest action adventure to come out of Stephen Cannell's hour-long-drama factory. ABC is running it Saturday nights at 10 o'clock. It premieres tomorrow night on Channel 13 (WJZ).

The shorthand on the title character of this one, Tony Scali, police commissioner of a medium-size city, could be "Hunter With a Heart." But there's more to this guy than that. So he's Italian and sings opera in the shower and eats too much pasta and talks with a lot of dees and dos. So what? There's a good character here behind the cliches.

Scali is a good solid cop, a top-rate manager with the right values and instincts, not afraid to show his emotions, not above admitting mistakes. He's got a good sense of humor, cares about the men under him, but cares more about doing the job right.

He's based on a real police chief -- Tony Schembri of Rye, N.Y. -- and Michael Chiklis plays him well. Theresa Saldana is fine as his wife, too.

But, unfortunately, the quality control officer in the Cannell factory must have been sleeping on the job when they rolled the first episode of "The Commish" off the line.

The main plot involves a young man brought in on a drunken driving charge who ends up hanging himself in his cell. He turns out to be the son of one of the most prominent families in town, and his father is outraged and threatens all sorts of recriminations. But the old man was cold and distant and had no idea what his son was up to.

How many rich fathers who think that they only have to provide their sons money, not real affection, have been set straight by feet-on-the-ground blue-collar heroes in TV series over the years? Add one more.

That dovetails a bit too neatly with a transparent subplot that has the commish suddenly eager to move into one of his town's ritziest neighborhoods. The sub-sub-plot that runs through the hour involves a string of convenience store holdups and provides a nice closing scene but is probably in there because it allows Cannell to wreck a car. He was the acknowledged maestro of metal-bending back in his "A-Team" days.

Cannell can make excellent shows such as "Wiseguy." He used to write a lot of episodes of "The Rockford Files." Like "Wiseguy," "The Commish" could explore the ambiguities of law enforcement, but with humor, through the eyes of a Rockford-like character. That potential goes unrealized in this warmed-over plate of re-hash.

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