Quirky, entertaining 'Key West' lands tonight on Fox network

January 19, 1993|By Steve McKerrow | Steve McKerrow,Staff Writer

You just have to like a character who says he used to rea Shakespeare in bed while huddled with a flashlight under the covers, hiding the bard between the pages of Playboy so his parents wouldn't learn he was "a closet bookworm."

Meet Seamus O'Reilly, the lead character of "Key West," the second half of the premiere of a Tuesday night lineup on the Fox network. (It follows "Class of '96" on WBFF (Channel 45) at 9 p.m.

The show does play as an obvious attempt to capture the kooky appeal of CBS' successful "Northern Exposure" and some of the exotic spice of ABC's struggling "Going to Extremes."

But underneath, viewers may find an unusual heartbeat. Do you remember anybody in any TV series ever taking Hemingway and Tennessee Williams as idols?

Seamus O'Reilly does. And viewers might enjoy giving themselves a chance to believe in him, as played in understated style by Fisher Stevens.

In an effective opening sequence, shot initially in black and white before blossoming into color, we meet O'Reilly as an assembly-line drone in New Jersey. He hits the lottery and heads off to Key West to follow in Hemingway's footsteps. Naturally, he encounters characters beyond the imagination of any blue-collar urbanite.

There's the Rastafarian O'Reilly meets on the beach while "executing" his car, thus severing his connection to his old life. Jojo (T. C. Carson) plays Friday to O'Reilly's Crusoe in one of the many literary allusions.

The blind newspaper editor King Cole (Ivory Ocean) responds to O'Reilly's ambition to do what Hemingway did by asking: "You want to report on the Spanish Civil War?"

Tavern-owner Gumbo (Leland Crooke) keeps an alligator in his bar, prostitute Savannah (Jennifer Tilly) does mercy work, two mayoral candidates debate homosexuality and development issues on TV, and an Hispanic businessman takes his autistic son to a marine research center to commune with dolphins.

The real Key West may not be accurately represented here, of course. Then again, Cicely, Alaska, of "Northern Exposure" is actually filmed in a small town in Washington state.

Although too busy in establishing all these characters, the premiere shows promise as an engagingly offbeat corner of the Fox network.

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