Confusion lurks in `Turks'

Review: Will tribal lure ensure success of new CBS saga about a family of Irish-American cops? And will we be able to keep all the characters straight?

January 21, 1999|By David Zurawik | David Zurawik,SUN TELEVISION CRITIC

This has not been a real good year for family dramas about Irish-American cops.

CBS has already let go of "To Have and To Hold," while "Trinity" failed to solve the mystery of the 8 o'clock Friday night time slot on NBC. Not even having John Wells, of "ER" fame, as its creator and Tate Donovan in a cassock could save "Trinity."

And now, thanks to the cookie-cutter thinking of network TV, comes "Turks" -- yet another CBS saga featuring a family of Irish-American cops, this one living in Chicago. What do you think its chances are, going up against NBC's Thursday-night lineup?

There are young Turks and old Turks in "Turks," and one of the problems in the pilot is in trying to keep them all straight. The most promising aspect of the show involves the oldest Turk, Sgt. Joseph Turk (William Devane).

The Turks live in working-class bungalows and flats in the same precinct they police. Two doors down from Joe and his wife, Mary (Helen Carey), live Michael Turk (David Cubitt) and his wife, Erin (Sarah Trigger).

The lower flat of their house is home to Joey Turk Jr. (Matthew Armstrong). Michael and Joey are brothers and cops in their Dad's precinct. The other Turk who plays a prominent part in tonight's pilot is Paul Turk (Michael Muhney), the sergeant's youngest son. Paulie, as he is called by his brothers, is a college student with a gambling problem. The gambling gets him and his brother Joey in big trouble.

The Turks are not an especially happy clan. When he's not working the desk or handling roll call at the precinct house, dad spends most of his time at Emmit's, an Irish-American cop bar. One of the attractions of Emmit's is a waitress named Ginny (Ashley Crow), a lovely lass with a smart mouth and eyes for old Joe.

Tonight, it's mainly teasing between the two.

"Well, if it's not Joe Turk, the sergeant of my dreams," Ginny says as she sidles up to take his order.

"Dream about captains, Ginny. They make more money," Joe says, barely looking up from his crossword puzzle.

"Yeah, but money can't buy me love."

And Joe can't find love at home these days. His marriage is on the rocks, with him spending all his time at work or Emmit's and Mary more and more of hers at church. Paulie calls her "St. Mary."

The relationship between Ginny and Joe will go beyond teasing in future episodes. If you want to see a guy pushing 60 sleeping with a woman of about 30, "Turks" might be for you.

And, if you liked Devane as the sergeant in NBC's mini-series version of "From Here to Eternity," you'll probably love him here. He's playing essentially the same role.

That's where the young Turks are supposed to come in, especially the good-looking but deeply troubled Paulie. But, like I said, it's hard even to sort them out one from the other, let alone get involved with or care about their problems.

And their problems are more the stuff of melodrama than drama. In the case of Paulie, in fact, the problems are more the stuff of daytime soap opera than even melodrama. This is one whiny and annoying kid.

What executive producer Robert Singer, as well as the creators of "To Have and To Hold" and "Trinity," were clearly going for with these Irish family cop dramas is tribal appeal. They and the networks that bought the shows were guessing we viewers, living our lives in an increasingly impersonal and bureaucratic society, would find pleasure in escaping to a world of family, tribe and clan via the tube.

And they were almost right.

In trying to explain the instant success of his HBO series about a Mafia clan, "The Sopranos," at a press conference in Pasadena, Calif., this week, creator David Chase cited a discussion with John Boorman, director of the feature film "The General."

"Boorman said he thinks it has something to do with mob stories being tribal stories. In this society, where there's a huge government and everything is fractured, mob stories get back to the elemental tribal clan thing, and that's the appeal," Chase said.

The networks had the right idea, but the wrong tribe.

`Turks'

When: 9 to 10 tonight

Where: CBS (WJZ, Channel 13) Pub Date: 1/21/99

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