'Laurie Hill' is a bit too selfless to be believable

September 30, 1992|By David Zurawik | David Zurawik,Television Critic

Meet Laurie Hill, doctor and saint.

I suppose after decades of men as doctors and saints on TV, there's nothing awful about a woman with a medical degree who's just perfect in every way. But, boy, does it make for boring TV.

ABC calls "Laurie Hill" an "adult comedy," but the laughs and smiles are pretty far apart. Instead there's whining, tear-jerking and lots of the sentimentality that makes for bad melodrama in the series, which premieres at 9:30 tonight on WJZ (Channel 13).

Dr. Hill (DeLane Matthews) is a pediatrician in her mid-30s with a husband and a 5-year-old son. As the ABC ads say: "She loves being a doctor. She loves being a mom. But what she'd really love is a little sleep."

That is Dr. Hill's only flaw: She occasionally gets tired and can't give of herself the way she would like to give 24 hours a day to her husband, child, patients, humanity, the world, the galaxy, and places beyond where only the Starship Enterprise has visited.

And if the prospect of watching a heroine-too-selfless-to-be-true isn't deadening enough, there's the rest of the Hill household.

Her husband (Robert Clohessy) is a free-lance writer who works at home and is constantly acting hurt and whining because his wife's beeper is going off and it's not always sounding for him. The kid (Eric Lloyd) is one of those ever-so-cute-and-wise TV creations who talks and acts more like an adult than any kid you ever knew. The kid acts hurt a lot, too, because Mom is always running off to the hospital to try to save the life of another child just as the pizza arrives.

In tonight's episode, one of Dr. Hill's child-patients turns out to be HIV positive. The possibility was there for genuine drama. But the treatment given this child-dying-young is sentimental and exploitative. It's used as an easy device to show how deep and vast Dr. Hill's storehouse of compassion is without any real sense of what it must feel like to be the child or a member of his family.

If I sound as if I'm being a little rough on this show, it's because I expected more from the producers, Neal Marlens and Carol Black, based on their fabulous work on "The Wonder Years."

In fact, I'm such a fan of their work that I convinced myself the first time I saw the pilot that something wise and knowing, funny and sad was being said about the human condition. But, on second and third viewings, I came to realize it was just the soundtrack, the acoustic guitar work of W. G. Snuffy Walden, that made me feel that way. I think I was flashing on the emotions I had previously felt watching "The Wonder Years," "thirtysomething" and other shows that featured Walden's music. It was a Pavlovian -- or Waldenian -- response. The soundtrack deserves a better show.

None of which is to say "Laurie Hill" is automatically D.O.A. It has a great lead-in from "Home Improvement," which should make it look like an early ratings winner. But I think viewers are going tire pretty fast of the sainted Dr. Hill, supersupermom and healer of healers.


When: Tonight at 9:30.

Where: WJZ (Channel 13).

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