NBC puts 'Homicide' fans in 'Crisis'

February 28, 1997|By Chris Kaltenbach | Chris Kaltenbach,SUN STAFF

"Crisis Center," debuting tonight on NBC, is going to face a tough sell here in Baltimore.

For one thing, it's displacing the much-beloved "Homicide: Life on the Street" for six weeks in the 10 p.m.-11 p.m. time slot.

For another, it's not much of a show.

Don't blame the actors, who struggle gamely against a script that has them battling everything but the kitchen sink. Set in what must be San Francisco's most unlucky counseling center, in just the first episode, the staff has to face down: a hostage situation, desk-top birth (of a handicapped child, at that), a lawsuit that could close the center down, a simmering romance between the center's directors, and a troupe of naked Chinese girls who don't know a word of English.

Kellie Martin ("Life Goes On" and "Christy") stars as intern Kathy Goodman, who's unfortunate enough to pick up the last call coming into the center one night. It's from a guy threatening suicide, and when none of the professional counselors are available to come to the phone, it's up to her to talk him out of it.

She doesn't.

A few days pass, and the man's father shows up at the center. He wants to know what his son said before he died, and is outraged to learn that a mere intern, some round-cheeked girl who looks like she's barely out of college, was on the other end of that phone line.

She's responsible for the son's death, he decides, so she -- and the center -- must pay.

So he shows up with a gun and holds everybody hostage -- including a very pregnant woman in the middle of an unborn-child custody battle. Not to mention the Chinese girls, who, with the passing of a few days, have acquired clothes, but still no knowledge of the language.

Can Kathy save the day? The show is slated to run for the next six weeks, so odds are she does.

Martin, who took a semester off from Yale to make "Crisis Center," is well-cast. Nobody plays earnest and enthusiastic better than she, and if the dialogue forces her to be just too gosh-darn plucky, that's not her fault.

Others in the cast include Nia Peeples and Matt Roth as the center's co-directors, Tina Lifford and Clifton Gonzalez Gonzalez as counselors, and Dana Ashbrook (the volatile Bobby Briggs of "Twin Peaks") as a cop who has the hots for Martin's character. All bring plenty of energy and enthusiasm to their roles; it's too bad the show they find themselves in is so just-plain silly.

The folks behind "Crisis Center" seem to be aiming for another "ER," another adrenalin-filled hour of well-drawn, compelling characters struggling to stay one step ahead of disaster. It's hard, however, to find that sort of adrenalin rush in a place where 99 percent of the people show up just to talk.

But don't despair. Six weeks from now, "Homicide" will be back.

"Crisis Center" airs locally on WBAL-Channel 11.

Pub Date: 2/28/97

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