Hiding the fact that Jenny can't act

September 27, 1997|By David Zurawik | David Zurawik,SUN TELEVISION CRITIC

You know you have a sorry sitcom when its best moments belong to George Hamilton, and he's doing the same role he's done 10,000 times before, mocking his way-too-tan, playboy image.

That's what happens in "Jenny," the new NBC sitcom that was supposed to star Jenny McCarthy.

Only Jenny can't act.

NBC's first attempt at solving the Jenny-can't-act problem was to pair her with someone who could act a little, Heather Paige Kent, and make it a female buddy sitcom.

So you have the concept of Jenny McMillan (McCarthy) and Maggie (Kent) leaving dead-end jobs in Utica, N.Y., and coming to live in Los Angeles -- two wide-eyed, small-town, best-friends-for-life on their own.

They are supposed to be "Laverne & Shirley" for the '90s, right down to the Lenny-and-Squiggy guys named Max (Rafer Weigel) and Cooper (Dale Godboldo), who were added to further distract viewers from the fact that Jenny can't act.

And, finally, Hamilton was added in the role of Jenny's dead father (Guy Hathaway), an actor in B-movies whom Jenny never met. He leaves his house in the Hollywood Hills to Jenny, which is what brings her to Los Angeles. Max and Cooper live in the guest house out back.

The producers get around the fact that he's dead by having him appear on videotape. In the pilot, his last will and testament is on video. In subsequent episodes, Jenny and Maggie watch old movies and TV specials starring Guy.

After a few minutes with McCarthy, you come to savor Hamilton's brief video visits. After a half-hour of her performance, you start to think of him as a comic genius.

Why anyone thought McCarthy's success in MTV's "Singled Out" meant she could carry a sitcom is beyond me. Like Tea Leoni, McCarthy photographs well -- she looks good on camera.

But that's not enough. Her video image on "Singled Out" only translated into super sex appeal because she was surrounded by dozens of horny fraternity boys trucked in by MTV's producers to serve as a testosterone setting for their blond jewel. It was all that raw male lust for McCarthy -- not her video image itself -- that sent the sex meter slamming into the red zone.

Instead of acting, what you have in "Jenny" is McCarthy making a few distorted faces in reaction to things happening around her. McCarthy's main facial expression is one of distaste, and she has to use the words, "ewwww, ewwww, ewwww," to spell out what the face is trying to say.

God will surely punish me for dragging the memory of Lucille Ball into the same sentence with McCarthy, but, for comparison, Lucy didn't need words to show distaste or anything else.

But, then, Lucy could act.

'JENNY'

What: Series premiere

When: Tomorrow at 8: 30 p.m.

Where: NBC (WBAL, Channel 11)

Pub Date: 9/27/97

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