Heckart, Ivey cut--and quick 'Buchanans': put-down one-upmanship

September 24, 1994|By David Zurawik | David Zurawik,Sun Television Critic

"The Five Mrs. Buchanans" is "Designing Women" with its fangs showing.

The sitcom, which premieres tonight on CBS, stars the sublime Judith Ivey as one of the five Mrs. Buchanans. Four of them, including the one played by Ivey, are married to brothers and share the dark fate of having an incredible witch for a mother-in-law. In self-defense, they wind up forming a kind of comic support group for each other.

The witch, the fifth Mrs. Buchanan, is played by Eileen Heckart, ++ and what Mother Buchanan lacks in spitefulness she more than makes up for in self-centeredness.

Mother Buchanan is not seen, only discussed with great fear and loathing during the first half of tonight's show. When she does make her entrance, it's with a voice that could have been used by Linda Blair in "The Exorcist."

The pilot opens with three of the Mrs. Buchanans learning they are getting a new sister-in-law (Charlotte Ross), as another of the Buchanan boys ties the knot. The three (Ivey, Beth Broderick and Harriet Harris) throw a bridal shower for the newcomer and introduce her to the experience of being a Buchanan wife.

This newest in-law worked at Disney World doing something that involved turning lots of cartwheels. If you've ever seen Ivey or Heckart do sarcasm, you can imagine what a setup the resume of this youngest Mrs. Buchanan is for their caustic one-liners and long, long pauses.

The queen of queens when it comes to put-downs, though, is Mother Buchanan.

During the bridal shower at the home of Alex (Ivey), she goes off to use the bathroom. When she returns five seconds later, the daughters-in-law all ask what's wrong.

Mother Buchanan says Alex must have forgotten to clean. But that's all right, she says, she'll just wait and use the restroom in the Texaco station on the way home.

Baltimore viewers, who want to see "The Five Mrs. Buchanans," will have to wait, too -- until the affiliate switch on Jan. 2, when CBS joins WJZ (Channel 13).

WBAL, the current CBS affiliate, is pre-empting the show for a syndicated series, "Hawkeye," a frontier drama set in 1775. The other option for viewers is to try to tune in WUSA (Channel 9), the CBS affiliate in Washington.

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