'Linc's' makes a strong debut Preview: Showtime hits with comedy about real African-Americans

new series 'Rude Awakening,' however, is brash to a fault.

August 01, 1998|By CHRIS KALTENBACH | CHRIS KALTENBACH,SUN STAFF

The Bold and the Banal: Showtime manages to display both tonight.

The Bold comes first, with the 10 p.m. debut of "Linc's Place," an hourlong comedy set inside a Washington bar and grill. And what sets it apart is made apparent in the course of an opening monologue from Linc's owner Russell Lincoln (Steven Williams), who bemoans how liberal whites get together to make films about African-Americans and the result is "classic films like 'Booty Call.' "

"Linc's Place" is that rarest of TV commodities, a series about minorities -- in this case, African-Americans -- that treats them as people, not as demographics. The blacks mingling inside Linc's Bar & Grill are a mix of Democrat and Republican, conservative and liberal, erudite and sassy. Like any cross-section of humanity, there's a little bit of everything.

There's also a lot of frank talk about race relations (in this neighborhood, Linc complains, "nodding to each other is what passes for integration") and some very witty dialogue, delivered by a uniformly excellent cast. The roster includes not only Williams, who makes a fine anchor for this diverse ensemble, but also Georg Stanford Brown as conservative lobbyist Johnnie B. Goode; Pam Grier as his liberal counterpart, Eleanor Braithwaite Winthrop; Golden Brooks as tart-tongued waitress Ce-Ce Jennings; Joe Inscoe as an aide to an aging Southern senator; and Daphne Maxwell-Reid (wife of executive producer Tim Reid) as high-class shady lady Eartha.

In tonight's opener, Linc, a card-carrying member of the NRA who brags that he's "as Republican as Abraham," welcomes home his daughter, Rosalee (Tisha Campbell), who's just been transferred to a nearby Army post -- and who's got a secret that should shake her dad's conservatism to its foundation. In a subplot, Johnnie and Eleanor are duking it out over legislation that would tax cigarettes and use the money to provide free lunches for school kids.

Tim Reid, who's co-producing the series with Susan Fales-Hill ("A Different World"), has a brief -- and very funny -- cameo as a Catholic priest with a busy confessional. Like his failed CBS series, "Frank's Place," "Linc's" (despite some racy dialogue; this is cable, after all) is the sort of series that, by refusing to condescend to anyone, should appeal to everyone.

The same could never be said for the banal "Rude Awakening," a calculatedly offensive half-hour sitcom debuting at 11 p.m. that stars Sherilyn Fenn ("Twin Peaks") as Billie Frank, a former teen-age soap-opera staple whose life has devolved into an alcohol-induced haze.

Billie is a bad, if frequent, drunk; almost invariably, her binges end with her naked in some strange guy's bed. This makes for all sorts of hilarity, as she chastises her sexual organs for getting her into trouble, pokes merciless fun at anyone who's even remotely straight-arrow (including her poor sister-in-law, whose misfortune is being a devout Christian) and constantly tries to live up to the example of her unapologetic lush of a mother (Lynn Redgrave, acting down to the level of her material).

"Rude Awakening" is brash to a fault; sometimes the shock value alone makes it intriguing. And Fenn struggles mightily to make something of her character. But in the end, the series -- at least the two episodes made available to critics -- is 90 percent shock value, 10 percent wit. With that sort of ratio, it's hard to imagine anyone staying interested for long.

Showtime shows "Linc's Place," 10-11 tonight

"Rude Awakening," 11-11: 30 tonight

Pub Date: 8/01/98

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