Sharpening claws in 'CPW'

September 13, 1995|By David Zurawik | David Zurawik,Sun Television Critic

"Central Park West" is CBS' desperate attempt to win younger viewers by using one of the oldest and lowest staples of soap opera: The cat fight.

At least that's the motor powering tonight's pilot for the high-gloss series, which will premiere at 9 on WJZ (Channel 13). The ever-so-decent Stephanie Wells (Mariel Hemingway) arrives in Manhattan to take over as editor of Communique magazine and immediately locks horns with the oh-so-wicked Carrie Fairchild (Madchen Amick), the decadent and spoiled step-daughter of the magazine's cutthroat owner (Ron Leibman). It's Krystle and Alexis on the Hudson. Ssssssst, sssssst, sssssst.

If that's not enough to hook you, how about a too-obvious John Kennedy Jr. character, Peter Fairchild (John Barrowman)? He works as an assistant district attorney, plays softball in Central Park with a team of other hot bodies, and fills out a tuxedo about as well as anyone this side of the original.

Or, how about bedroom scenes with lots of skin, cocktail parties with lots of champagne, romantic coach rides in Central Park, Lauren Hutton as a Jackie Kennedy type, and a script from Darren Star, who created "Beverly Hills, 90210" and "Melrose Place"?

"Central Park West" is so obvious in its manipulation, it gives mindless escapism a bad name.

How do we know Carrie is wicked? She has a tattoo, she smokes cigarettes and her hair is very, very dark.

How do we know Stephanie is sainted? She has light hair, no tattoos, is allergic to cigarette smoke, and she's sensitive to the professional inferiority felt by her good-looking but weak husband (Tom Verica). While Stephanie is a fast-track magazine editor now making big bucks, hubby is a struggling novelist and teacher bobbing along in her wake and whining.

The hour starts off with Carrie arriving late for Stephanie's first staff meeting, and then blowing cigarette smoke in Stephanie's face as she blows off the new editor's warning to shape up or face losing her $200,000-a-year columnist job.

The hour ends with Carrie luring Stephanie's husband to her loft and all but sinking her fangs into the knucklehead's jugular in hopes of using him to hurt Stephanie. Make it a double order of Meow Mix and hold the cream until next week.

I have to hand it to Star. Had I not viewed the pilot twice, I would not have believed that any writer could create this many complications, develop this many entangled relationships, and generate this much back-stabbing in just one hour. It's unbelieveable.

Just when Stephanie thinks she has to be nice to Carrie because the boss is her stepfather, the guy whispers to Stephanie that he wants her to run Carrie off Communique. Just when Peter Fairchild looks like he might have found true love with a lower-class girl, she turns out to be something other than she appears.

Just when hunky stockbroker Gil Chase (Justin Lazard) looks like he might be an OK guy, we find out that he used his looks and charm to lead a young woman to financial ruin, and she is now vowing revenge.

And on and on it goes in this world of young and glamorous New Yorkers.

CBS and Star are pulling all stops to lure viewers into "Central Park West." But all that glistens is not gold.

This is an incredibly calculated show with less than zero heart or soul.

And I suspect that more than a few viewers are going to leave "Central Park West" after an hour tonight feeling like they've been intellectually mugged.

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