Drawing on earlier hits, 'Double Rush' is the best of CBS' trio of new sitcoms

January 02, 1995|By David Zurawik | David Zurawik,Sun Television Critic

"Double Rush" is a little bit of "Cheers," a lot of "Taxi" and a taste of rock 'n' roll.

Replace the taxis in "Taxi" with bicycles and the cab drivers with messengers, and you pretty much have the situation part of this promising new CBS situation comedy, which premieres Wednesday.

The main set is an underground garage in Manhattan where orders arrive for cross-town package deliveries. The garage is populated by the manager of the Double Rush messenger service, Johnny Verona (Robert Pastorelli), and his band of misfit messengers.

Verona is a '60s idealist-verging-on-burnout who once played guitar with Eric Clapton. A vintage Fender guitar hangs in his office, to remind baby boomer viewers not only of the lead character's past but also theirs. At the end of tonight's pilot, Verona picks up the guitar and starts to play. That's the taste of rock 'n' roll part.

The "Cheers" part happens when a perky young Harvard graduate named Zoe (Corinne Bohrer) arrives with a rush order for a job pitch she's making to an advertising agency. Zoe gets turned down by the agency, but signs on with the bike brigade -- temporarily, she insists.

This is exactly how Diane Chambers (another highly educated and perky blond) came to work at Cheers "strictly on a temporary basis."

The rest of the cast involves lots of lovable losers, eccentrics and wise-cracking New Yorkers -- ranging in age from Generation X to way beyond the silver years.

They all face the reality -- and often the strangeness -- of daily life in Manhattan as they maneuver around the city in fierce competition with other delivery companies and the clock.

In the pilot, Double Rush races a competing agency for a new account: The first to deliver a package to its destination gets the new client. Between the messenger and victory are unexpected traffic tie-ups, a gay pride parade, construction work and blocked-off streets -- things that commuters in any major city are heir to.

Its feel for the misery of gridlock, if nothing else, ought to make this series a hit in major cities.

But there are lots of things to like about this series.

It understands and appreciates generational differences. Yes, the manager and surrogate father of Double Rush is a baby boomer, but many of the voices in his employ are those of Generation Xers who appear to have something to say to, as well as to teach, Verona. And in a refreshing twist, the hero of the pilot turns out to be a character who's 75 years old and proud of it.

"Double Rush" is produced by Diane English and Joel Shukovsky, the husband-and-wife team that makes "Murphy Brown," which is explanation enough of what makes it seem smart. It also explains how Pastorelli, Eldon of "Murphy Brown," wound up as Johnny Verona.

"Double Rush" is ultimately about having attitude -- especially when you haven't got much else.

In the second episode, Verona tells one of his minions why he admires basketball star and former Madonna boyfriend Dennis Rodman.

"Rodman is my man," Verona says. "He's got tattoos. He dyes his hair. He doesn't play by the rules, and he's still a champion. He's just like us, except he's not broke."

The Nielsen ratings show that viewers are identifying with TV characters who are broke or nearly broke but who work hard and have integrity -- characters like Roseanne's Roseanne and Brett Butler's Grace. Johnny Verona has the same kind of stuff.

If "Double Rush" can get a better time spot than 9 Wednesday nights after the all-but-dead "Hearts Afire," CBS is going to have itself a hit.

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