Temporary Workers, Part-time Amusement Three Shows Are Debuting Tonight.

Posted: March 05, 1997

Critics like things to be all good or all bad - good brings out the wonderful adjective selection; bad induces those marvelous negative metaphors that could possibly enshrine one in a critical anthology.

That makes CBS's Temporarily Yours, the first of three new network shows bowing tonight (Feds and Arsenio are the others), frustrating to review. There are times you'd love to wax lyrical, making it the next Seinfeld-M*A*S*H-All in the Family. And then there are the moments when the teeth grit and those negative metaphors start to line up on the tip of the tongue.

Temporarily Yours (8:30 tonight on Channel 3) stars Debi Mazar, who played gum-cracking, wise-girl secretary Denise Iannello on L.A. Law and its spinoff, Civil Wars.

Here, she's an outer-borough 28-year-old single looking for a good apartment and a good job - sort of a less obnoxious Fran Drescher.

After quitting the umpteenth job that doesn't put her in a ``success-friendly arena,'' she applies to work for a high-gloss temp agency that ever-aggravated Joan Silver (Joanna Gleason, late of Love and War) runs from her townhouse, assisted by her semi-nebbish son, David (Seth Green).

The good part about this is that Mazar gets to do her shtick in different venues every week. In the pilot, she does a wonderful Lucy-esque routine while trying to do makeup on a cadaver. Her by-play with the continually exasperated Gleason is full of good timing. And most of the jokes are actually not about sex.

But then all of it breaks down somehow in the morass of stupid sitcom tricks. The producers find it necessary to have an extremely loud, almost abusive, sound track that turns your own sense of humor into an ear-plugging rage. Further, they fall into that annoying Hollywood sitcom version of New York scene.

For the Friends-impaired, this has a woman without a job being able to afford a humongous Lower Manhattan loft with a picture-window view of the Brooklyn Bridge. It has a department store with nothing but white people shopping and working in it. It has a packed subway car in which the only black man on it is old and disheveled. And all the white women have cute accents and heads full of air.

Temporarily Yours would be funnier if Mazar was hungering for a typical, hatbox-sized, Manhattan apartment with a view of a huge weed, and the producers realized that a panoply of ethnics inhabit Manhattan and Brooklyn - a few of them, at least, having IQs in the triple digits.

It should be easy to look past this stuff, but it is so pervasive and demeaning that it overshadows the good things in the show. Mazar and Gleason are quite good. Nancy Cassaro as Mazar's friend with a ballplayer husband and Saverio Guerra as her fast-talking landlord are cliched and unnecessary. Keep them in cameo and keep Mazar working, or this show will only be temporarily yours.

* Local newscasts have been criticized for being too filled with crime and mayhem. You may assume that they are that way because viewers want it, or because it is less expensive than investigations, or because it makes for good pictures.

After watching the pilot of Feds (9 tonight on Channel 3), you realize that these local newscasts emphasize crime news as a public service, so that those in the FBI and various prosecutors' offices know what is going on with their cases.

Several times in Feds, the officers and lawyers portrayed find out key information about their cases from well-timed TV newscasts. Federal agents work night and day, sleeping with their cellular phones and, sometimes, with the enemy for years, and find out their man is captured from some blow-dried woman on the tube. Geez, Mac, how come we never had a mole at Channel 8?

Feds on CBS is the latest in a line of crime shows produced by Dick Wolf, who also does NBC's Law & Order and Fox's New York Undercover. While Wolf should be commended for helping re-establish New York as a viable prime-time TV site, his shows are quite mundane. Law & Order made its mark by fictionalizing real-life New York cases such as that of the Mayflower Madam. New York Undercover is, indeed, one of the few shows that give blacks and Hispanics real emotions, but it is otherwise incredibly macho and its story lines are shallow.

Feds is not even up to those standards, despite a good cast.

Blair Brown (Days and Nights of Molly Dodd) plays Erica Stanton, a tough U.S. attorney who supervises a group of assistants who ought to rearrange their beds because they all seem to get up on the wrong side of them. Sandra Broome (Regina Taylor of I'll Fly Away) heads up civil rights; Michael Mancini (John Slattery of Homefront) goes after organized crime with extra zeal after his family is wiped out in a mob massacre; C. Oliver Resor (Adrian Pasdar of Profit) is an all-around ambitious hotdog. Popping in and out of the shadows is Jack Gaffney (Dylan Baker), a federal investigator.

But all of these folks speak third-rate Jack Webb lines while they are looking into only the glamorous or salacious cases. The mob case is cartoonish. Any viewer within a half-hour walk of a cheesesteak stand or dimly lit street corner could probably write better mob-chasing dialogue. The civil rights division spends hundreds of thousands of dollars investigating the case of a ballet master who acknowledges seducing his teenage proteges, just so - in the name of realism - we can go to trial and hear about semen on pubescent panties.

Wolf can certainly do better than this, especially with the array of actors he has recruited. But for now, you have to give Wolf, the most outspoken anti-rating advocate among TV producers, a DW-A, as in ``Don't watch, anyone'' for Feds.

* Arsenio (tonight at 9:30 on Channel 6), Arsenio Hall's new sitcom, could be better, but one can only fear, from reports of friction on the set, that it will become even more disorganized.

Hall plays Michael Atwood, the 37-year-old anchor for an all-sports cable network in Atlanta. He has recently married Vivian (Vivica A. Fox), a young lawyer. Her recent Harvard-graduate brother, Matthew (Alimi Ballard) is living with them until he gets a job - which will apparently be never.

Each of the black protagonists has a white best friend: neighbor Laura Lauman (a Marine-brushcut Shawnee Smith) for Vivian; co-anchor and semi-nebbish Al O'Brien (Kevin Dunn) for Michael.

There are a few funny bits: Matthew's explanation for his unemployment; Michael telling his white producer that he will not go ``street'' for him; a joke here and there. But the main byplay between Michael and Vivian is stock and silly; much of it ``explaining'' the difference between men and women.

Penn graduate David Rosenthal is listed as the pilot's writer, creator and, with Hall, executive producer, as he was for the first season of Ellen, the show Arsenio is replacing in the time slot.

But Rosenthal has quit over those danged creative differences that seem to run rampant in Hollywood (Will there never be a vaccine?), and a Rosenthal-less Arsenio was not available for preview.

Hall himself does not seem to have a strong presence in the show, preferring, it seems, to be like Jerry Seinfeld's conduit character in Seinfeld. The difference is that Seinfeld's supporting cast is marvelous and Arsenio's is bland.

Arsenio is not the worst pilot you'll see, but it doesn't seem to go anywhere, which probably means all involved will be working on the show only a few weeks longer than Rosenthal.

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