Now that the fall TV season is starting to peek out from behind the Olympics hoopla, I'm trying a new approach to TV watching. I will still tune in to my old favorites, but as new series premiere, I will select one premiere of the week to tout, praise, root for, and gush over -- or the opposite, if I really felt like my time was wasted.
This week, my favorite new show is CBS's That's Life. Don't let the fact that it appears on CBS throw you. Home to die-cast dramas like Touched by an Angel, JAG, Walker, Texas Ranger (which That's Life leads in to), Diagnosis: Murder, and Nash Bridges, CBS is not exactly the vanguard in delivering prime-time dramas. Judging Amy and, to a lesser degree Family Law, have brought some much-needed new life to the network's drama lineup, and I anticipate that the new series CSI and perhaps even the reincarnation of The Fugitive (both on Friday) will help nudge the network from its stodgy leanings. But right now, it's the new Heather Paige Kent vehicle that's turned my head.
Kent stars as Lydia DeLucca, a New Jersey woman who, on the brink of her marriage, dumps her fiancé of eight years and decides to go to college. It sounds straightforward, but her choice is complicated by the fact that her family is less than supportive. Not that her family doesn't want her to be happy -- in fact, that's the only thing they want for her. But with their working-class background, they do not understand going to school for the sheer joy of learning. And this is what the hour-long drama captures well: the strain of a woman exploring her intellectual capacity in spite of her well-meaning loved ones who believe the tangible aspects of hard work are the only way to happiness and stability. Add to this her age (at 32, she's considered over-the-hill), and her own moments of self-doubt, and That's Life offers a lovely portrait of a woman daring to take charge of her life.
I'm sure the premise sounds corn-doggy to those whose pursuit of higher education was a given and to whom all means of emotional and financial support were never in short supply. But for people from working-class backgrounds, particularly those who were the first in families to enter college, That's Life rings indelibly true.
The only clunky spot in the series opener was the contrived introduction of one of Lydia's professors. He turns out to be a drunk at the neighborhood bar where she works at night, while intimidating students by day. Yeah, okay. I'll swallow that, as long as those kind of contrivances are avoided in the future. But with its delayed Sunday premiere last week, and a regular Saturday night time slot, I fear That's Life will not gain the audience it deserves. That's Life airs on Saturday nights, 7pm, on CBS.
The series stars David in a candid, unflinching portrait of himself as a stand-up comic, husband, and all-around regular guy making his way in show business. The series uses a quasi-nonfictional style, which relies on "script improvisation," according to one press report. I'm not sure what that means. From what I remember from Acting 101, improvisation isn't scripted. I think what the description is trying to convey is that, like in the comedy special, a certain set of circumstances are set up and the actors are let loose to improvise the scenes. Since David surrounds himself with highly capable actors, the result has little chance of falling flat. Cheryl Hines returns as David's wife, as does Jeff Garlin as his manager. Future guest stars include Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Ted Danson, and Mary Steenburgen. Curb Your Enthusiasm premieres Sunday, October 15, 8:30pm, on HBO. Additional playdates are October 17-19.
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