Vision cloudy on HBO show

Preview: Sexual fantasies as sitcom fodder don't guarantee success. A case in point: `The Mind of the Married Man.'

Fall TV 2001

September 11, 2001|By David Zurawik | David Zurawik,SUN TELEVISION CRITIC

After Sex and the City, The Sopranos and Six Feet Under, I was starting to believe that HBO couldn't make a bad series if it tried.

Then I saw The Mind of the Married Man, a sitcom about Mickey Barnes, a 39-year-old Chicago newspaper columnist trying to balance his life as father and husband with the sexual fantasies that play nonstop in his brain.

Actually, I'm giving the series created by and starring Mike Binder more of a focus than it actually displays - it stumbles aimlessly through the first several episodes.

Tonight's pilot centers on Barnes' wife, Donna (Sonya Walger), finding pornography on Mickey's home computer, while he hires a sexy new assistant (Ivana Milicevic) about whom he endlessly fantasizes.

There is hardly a note in either relationship that rings true from the writing to the acting. The physical awkwardness between Binder and Walger as actors playing husband and wife would be striking for a bad sitcom on UPN let alone HBO, where we've grown accustomed to the likes of James Gandolfini and Edie Falco as Mr. and Mrs. Soprano.

I think Married Man would like to be a male version of Sex and the City. But, instead of the fabulous sense of style, dish and female empowerment found in Carrie (Sarah Jessica Parker), what we have here is brain-dead barroom chatter about the size of male sex organs among Barnes and his two best friends at the newspaper, Doug Nelson (Taylor Nichols) and Jake Berman (Jake Weber).

We have no real idea what Barnes writes about or, for that matter, cares about beyond sex. There are references to his writing a liberal column on politics that favors Democrats over Republicans, but that's about as deep as it gets, except for Barnes' sexual fantasies - which, to be frank, are not all that interesting.

It's not possible in a family newspaper to describe most of the sexual content. But there is something to be learned from it: how unexciting and even deadening the extra amount of sex allowed on premium cable can be when it's not tied to any artistic vision.

Premiere

What: The Mind of the Married Man

When: Tonight at 10

Where: HBO

In brief: HBO proves it can make a really bad series.

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