'Ellen' is a sitcom classic Emma Thompson co-stars

Today's TV

November 19, 1997|By David Zurawik

Remember Lucy and William Holden? How about Lucy and John Wayne?

Tonight, it's Ellen and Emma Thompson in ABC's "Ellen" (9: 30 p.m.-10 p.m., WMAR, Channel 2), and it is every bit the classic half-hour of sitcom madness as any episode of "I Love Lucy." In fact -- risking the wrath of legions of Lucy fans (Lucites?) -- I think tonight's "Ellen" is better than those rightfully cherished episodes from the 1950s.

The reason it's better: Thompson. While big-name guest stars from the world of film mainly stood there looking 10 times larger than life on the sitcom screen while Lucy ricocheted off them like a butterfly on LSD, Thompson hits the stage running in the opening sequence and never stops until the final frame. And the Oscar-winning dramatic actress does sitcom nutsiness as if she were born to it.

Thompson plays herself, but as a closet lesbian, in Hollywood to make a film with Sean Penn. While there, she meets Ellen, who has wangled a job as Thompson's personal assistant after seeing the actress share a passionate kiss with another woman at a party.

Ellen encourages Thompson to come out, but there are secrets within secrets within secrets. And then there's Penn, who appears in a cameo role, to contend with.

This is simply the funniest half-hour of network television since Mel Brooks first appeared as Uncle Phil last year on "Mad About You." And, though it hurts me to say this, Mel, Emma's a lot better looking.

Pub Date: 11/19/97

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