Politics takes back seat to sex in 'Hearts Afire'


September 14, 1992|By David Zurawik | David Zurawik,Television Critic

"Hearts Afire" is a case of the terminally dumb vs. the eternally wisecracking in the political world of Washington.

It's not exactly the South of "Evening Shade" or "Designing Women," but there's no mistaking the fact that this is Linda Bloodworth-Thomason country we're traveling in -- a world of non-stop one-liners, jokes and wisecracks.

In tonight's one-hour preview on CBS (Channel 11) at 8, there are bisexuality jokes, jokes about Southerners, jokes by Southerners, jokes on Southerners, and one very dumb redheaded receptionist 5l who's a running joke. And, yes, there are more than one or two smart-talking career women who usually have the last words and get the big laughs.

The smartest-talking career woman in "Hearts Afire" is Georgie Ann Lahti, played by Markie Post, formerly of "Night Court." She's a reporter with a wild past who's desperately in need of a job. She finds one as press secretary to a lecherous Southern senator. She's liberal; he's conservative.

The senator's chief aide, John Hartman (John Ritter), is also a conservative. The recently divorced father of two is repelled by Lahti's politics but attracted to her figure. His wife has just left him for another woman, which is where the bisexuality jokes come in -- in case anyone was wondering.

Almost everyone in tonight's preview has a golden line or comedic moment worth remembering. Like "Evening Shade," the supporting cast is huge and talented. One actress Bloodworth-Thomason needs to make better use of is the extraordinary Beah Richards, who is simply dragged around different sets tonight, playing Lahti's old nanny, with nothing much to do but comment on how much she likes yellow.

This is a comedy with a decided edge, but the edge this time is sex, sex, sex. Sex in the office. Sex and politics. Sexual politics.

The married senator is having an affair with his dumber-than-a-post receptionist -- and promoting her every chance he gets as a result. Hartman hires Lahti partly because he's attracted to her physically. There is also a married couple working in the senator's office who seem to talk about nothing but sex at work. In short, there's so much sexual heat here, the place could be mistaken for a power station.

As funny as Bloodworth-Thomason can make all of that seem at times, there is something troubling with the overall tone of this show. Maybe this isn't the right political comedy for this political year. Making light of issues that aren't funny in real life for some folks might be more complicated than even Bloodworth-Thomason, friend and adviser to Bill Clinton, understands.

The fact that sexuality and sex talk in the office have a dark side and regularly victimize women seems to be something that Bloodworth-Thomason and Company don't really appreciate -- despite their references to Anita Hill and the Clarence Thomas hearings tonight.

The show has a great regular time period (8:30) in CBS' killer Monday night lineup. But those shows are all aimed primarily at women. And I'm not sure a lot of women are going to think sex talk in the office is a great idea for a joke, a preview show and, maybe, a whole series.

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