Snap judgment: A waste of time

Preview: What is wrong with `Bob Patterson'? Let's start with the locker room humor.

Fall TV 2001

October 02, 2001|By David Zurawik | David Zurawik,SUN TELEVISION CRITIC

Despite all the thumbs-up/thumbs-down calls that television critics make during premiere week, the truth is that it's very hard to tell from just one episode how good or bad a series will be.

That is not the case with Bob Patterson, the new sitcom starring Jason Alexander as a self-help guru that premieres tonight on ABC. Four minutes into the pilot, I started thinking I didn't like it. At seven minutes, I was sure I didn't like. At 13 minutes, dislike turned to loathing.

The pilot opens with Bob Patterson (Alexander), the nation's third most popular motivational speaker, in crisis because his wife left him and he's been suffering writer's block since. A big seminar is only days away, and he hasn't written a word of his presentation. To make matters worse, his business partner, Landau (Robert Klein), is always reminding him of the clock and his inability to produce.

As the two partners are arguing in Patterson's outer office, in walks a young woman (Alex Meneses) who delivers water for the office water cooler. She is carrying a large jug of water on each shoulder and wearing a tight shirt that shows lots of cleavage. Add her tight khaki shorts and work boots to the package, and you have one of the staple shots from the gallery of male magazine centerfolds.

"Hola, Maria," Landau says to the woman, and then we are off and running into the world of adolescent, schoolboy, locker-room humor about the size of her breasts and the containers she is carrying. And, while this idiot badinage plays out, the camera gives us a long look at her flexing and bending this way and that with the heavy water containers on her shoulders. We are only four minutes into the show, and it got this stupid this fast.

For the record, there is nothing in the rest of this sorry pilot to indicate why the "hola" is used to suggest that this sexist cartoon of a character is Latina. It's just one more moment of insensitivity, as the woman and her aspirations to become a model are used as a running gag throughout the episode.

At seven minutes, the camera shifts to her behind as she bends over, and Patterson starts joking about that. At 13 minutes, she reclaims the attention of an increasingly distracted Patterson by saying, "Oh, look, I got water all over the front of my shirt."

This is the wet T-shirt school of American comedy writing, usually the province of hack comics working lounges in Reno, Nev., not high-priced, prime-time stars on the Disney-owned network that wants us to think of it as family.

Bob Patterson premieres at 9 tonight on WMAR (Channel 2).

`Scrubs'

Any pilot willing to take as many risks as Scrubs, a new NBC sitcom about the stressed-out life of medical interns, gets my best wishes for a long and happy run. I have no idea if Scrubs will find such success on a highly competitive Tuesday night, but it's worth your time tonight if for no other reason than to see that not every network sitcom has to look alike.

The series stars Zach Braff as medical intern J.D. Dorian, and the pilot takes us through the confusing, insane and frightening first day of his internship at a big hospital. The Cliffs Notes version of the story arc: He starts the day out ignoring the orientation lecture and saying, "I'm the man." Before his shift even ends, he is in the fetal position on a cot in a dark room praying to survive without killing anyone.

The humor is dark, and the editing is fast-paced and often non-linear. The visual sensibility heightens the surreal quality of life and death with young Dr. Dorian as he careens like a bumper-car through his shift.

Creator Bill Lawrence takes Dorian from the slapstick of walking into glass doors to the quiet emptiness of the intern pronouncing his first time of death. Yes, that's the same territory M*A*S*H covered.

I'm not saying Scrubs is in a league with M*A*S*H - no how, no way at this point. But you have to admire the effort.

Scrubs premieres at 9:30 tonight on WBAL (Channel 11).

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