`Pasadena' a potentially great escape

Preview: To become as popular as the trashy soaps of the 1980s, though, the Fox show first needs to establish a consistent tone.

Fall Tv 2001

September 28, 2001|By David Zurawik | David Zurawik,SUN TELEVISION CRITIC

Talk about promise. Pasadena, a new prime-time soap opera about a wealthy California newspaper family, has a cast that includes Dana Delany and a pilot that's directed by Diane Keaton, who also is one of the series' executive producers.

Well, la-di-dah, huh?

Not exactly. Great ingredients don't always come together, and that's mainly the case in tonight's pilot on Fox.

But, given the talent of newcomer Alison Lohman as 15-year-old Lily McAllister, and considering that she's the point of entry for Fox's intended audience, it's possible the producers could yet make Pasadena into some tasty, twisted escapist fare.

Like the 1980s mega-soap, the title comes from the city in which the McAllister family lives, Pasadena, home of the Rose Bowl and much of the old money in Southern California. The McAllisters' money is old enough, most of it made by Lily's robber baron of a great-grandfather. The premise is that the newspaper family's fortune is built on unspeakable evil deeds and civic betrayals, a history Lily is starting to learn about from her prep school classmates.

Her loss of innocence is intensified when Lily finds herself in the McAllister home face to face with an intruder who commits suicide before her horrified eyes. But, before dying, the man leaves a piece of information with Lily that sets her on a journey to solve the mystery of his death. And that means unraveling what looks to be a cover-up of lies and soothing words from her parents, Will (Martin Donovan) and Catherine (Delany).

Lohman is one of the most intriguing young actresses of the season, though you wonder how much of her skill is due to Keaton. Will she be that good in Episode 2, when Keaton isn't directing? As for Delany, you could spend the hour just watching her explore the various nuances of brittle, as she tries to keep the Junior League smile from shattering at the knowledge that her husband is having hot sex at the newspaper office with the vice president of marketing.

There's a lot happening in tonight's hour, but it fails miserably in doing the one thing a pilot must do: establish a sensibility. And confusion over tone almost always leads to tune-out.

Pasadena airs at 9 tonight on WBFF (Channel 45).

`Thieves'

Thieves is supposed to be about the unlikely but sexually charged pairing of two classy crooks (John Stamos and Melissa George) who are forced to work together for the federal government after being busted during a heist. Call it stealing for The Man. To stay out of jail, they steal back artworks and documents that have been stolen from the United States.

But what Thieves really is about is seeing Melissa George in leather, seeing Melissa George in a slinky evening gown, seeing Melissa George in the bathtub.

When I first saw the pilot in July, and then saw how the producers dressed George to meet the press - blond hair in a chignon, nicely tailored black slacks and top - I thought, "OK, Grace Kelly for a new generation. That could work." But now, it's all black leather skirts and bras, garish eye makeup, and George on her back in the ABC promotional campaign.

Following true north on the compass of exploitative network television, the series is tarting up and dumbing down. Well, at least the 15-year-old boys who are home Friday nights will have something to watch on ABC.

Thieves airs at 9 on WMAR (Channel 2).

`Danny'

Let's not waste a lot of words: Danny is hopeless.

The series stars Daniel Stern (Home Alone) as a middle-aged divorced dad who works at a recreation center. I thought the series might have something to say to adolescent viewers who don't have a rich family life. I thought Danny might offer them a kind of surrogate home and family life via the recreation center Stern runs.

I was wrong.

The producers don't know if they want to make that show or one about a nice guy going through a mid-life crisis. You should know that the original title was American Wreck. Can't imagine why the network changed it.

Danny debuts at 8:30 tonight on WJZ (Channel 13).

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