They've been there before

so have we

Two new series feature nearly identical plot lines about going back in time

Fall TV

September 19, 2002|By David Zurawik | David Zurawik,SUN TELEVISION CRITIC

One of the fascinating things about television is the way that mediocre series often can still have something important to tell us about ourselves. Even the worst can be a useful window into the national psyche. That's the case with three new network fall series premiering tonight and tomorrow night - series that are worth thinking about even if you are less than dazzled by the pilots.

They say lightning never strikes twice. But, then, they haven't yet seen That Was Then, a new drama on ABC, and Do Over, a sitcom premiering tonight on WB.

One of the weirder aspects of a decidedly weird and largely uninspired lineup of new series is the remarkable similarities between these two shows. Each deals with going back in time and starting over, but the real deja vu is in the details.

Each series features an unhappy and relatively lonely salesman (one sells doors, the other paper) in his 30s who suffers a freak accident that involves a huge jolt of electricity shooting through his body.

Instead of getting electrocuted, though, both men are transported back in time to high school - on the eve of making a big speech at an all-school assembly. The first time around, each of them blew the speech and lost the girl of his dreams, and they both feel it has been downhill ever since to what they think of as middle-aged failure.

The nearest we come to any difference in the two series is that one takes place in 1980 and the other 1988. What are the odds of this all being a coincidence?

Granted, Hollywood has no shortage of brain-dead thieves who will steal even a bad idea if they think it will get them a pilot deal. Still, the identical concept of these series seems noteworthy, especially as it links up with other messages about "starting over" seen elsewhere on television these days. You can't help but think these series might be speaking to or feeding off of something audience members are feeling - or, at least, network executives think American viewers are feeling.

Jordan Levin, the entertainment president of WB, has been quoted as saying, "In times of uncertainty, we seek nostalgia," and his network seems to have a very clear idea of where the audience is one year after the 9/11 attacks.

In addition to Do Over, Levin's network has another series exploring the notion of starting over: Everwood, a Monday drama starring Treat Williams as a renowned neurosurgeon and father of two "whose life is changed forever the day his loving wife dies," in the words of the WB promotional campaign. He quits his Manhattan practice and moves himself and his kids to Colorado in an effort to reconnect with what remains of his family.

New series are often about fresh starts -it's partly formulaic. But, if you decide to check out Do Over tonight or That Was Then when it premieres next week, notice how going back and starting over is coupled with a renewed appreciation for family by both time travelers.

One of the deepest sources of malaise in the life of both adult salesmen is what has happened to their families via death, divorce and drugs. One of the most important missions for both as born-again teen-agers is to treasure their families while they are still together. Not a bad message at all.

Do Over premieres at 8:30 tonight on WNUV (Channel 54).

`Greetings From Tucson'

Greetings From Tucson is also about family, but what matters in this WB sitcom is the ethnic makeup of the family.

The series is seen through the eyes of 15-year-old David Tiant (Pablo Santos), whose father, Joaquin (Julio Oscar Mechoso), is Mexican-American and whose mother, Elizabeth (Rebecca Creskoff), is Irish-American.

Like the character played by George Lopez in ABC's The George Lopez Show, David's father has been promoted into management, and the family is moving up in the world. This means ethnicity is coupled with issues of social class, especially when the family settles in a new upscale and decidedly non-ethnic neighborhood.

Overall, the focus of the series is the relationship between David and his strong-willed dad, and in the pilot they battle over what David is going to wear to a junior cotillion.

David was asked to the formal dance by the girl next door, Sarah (Sara Paxton), the only friend he's managed to make in his new neighborhood and school.

David wants to wear a flashy sharkskin suit that caught his eye at the mall. Joaquin tells David he can have the suit, and then he secretly buys a more conservative, traditional suit for his son. David trashes the garment when he finds out what his father has done.

Ethnicity is constantly referenced in the pilot, particularly as it troubles the waters of David's sense of who he is.

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