NETWORK TV IS FAST BECOMING A MASSIVE job-training center for actresses whose movie careers have stalled. This season we find Brooke Shields, Molly Ringwald, Justine Bateman and Lori Petty following in the footsteps of Candice Bergen, Cybill Shepherd and Kirstie Alley, trying to find the success on the small screen that has been elusive on the big screen. Alas, as the initial episodes of Suddenly Susan, Townies and Lush Life suggest, they seem more likely to follow in the footsteps of Mariel Hemingway and Mädchen Amick, stars whose careers have never really clicked on any screen.
In Suddenly Susan (NBC, Thursdays, 9:30 p.m. ET), Shields, veteran of many substandard films, plays a young woman hoping to find herself in the journalism business. This nod to The Mary Tyler Moore Show is not unintentional, nor is it wise. Though Shields shows some comic talent, the show’s premise is absurdly flimsy, and the rest of the cast is nondescript.
Even flimsier is the premise of Lush Life (Fox, Mondays, 9:30 p.m. ET), yet another sitcom about wacky roommates, in which Petty, a cross between Susan Powter, Cyndi Lauper and Pee-wee Herman, gets to act cool. Petty, last seen in the 1995 dud Tank Girl, apparently serves some purpose, but it is anyone’s guess what it is.
Ringwald, who appeared on the cover of TIME when she was just 18, will not be making a second appearance anytime soon, thanks to Townies (ABC, Wednesdays, 8:30 p.m. ET). As a waitress marooned in a New England fishing village, Ringwald is completely upstaged by Jenna Elf man, who gets the Lisa Kudrow dim-bulb role in this series and does a good job with it.
Even sadder is the fate of Justine Bateman, once a force on Family Ties, who plays second fiddle to the bookend cretins Rob Schneider and Ron Eldard in Men Behaving Badly (NBC, Wednesdays, 9:30 p.m. ET), about a sexist pig and his moron buddy. No complaints about the casting here.
Ironically, one of the most promising sitcoms of the season showcases a young woman who has just finished making a movie based on a sitcom (A Very Brady Sequel). In Party Girl (Fox, Mondays, 9 p.m. ET), the effervescent Christine Taylor plays a downtown chick by night who works as a clueless librarian by day. In fact, she plays the part so well that the producers of the lackluster TV spinoff Clueless (ABC, Fridays, 9 p.m. ET) might consider dumping Rachel Blanchard, a very poor Alicia Silverstone clone, and replacing her with Taylor. Then they could probably get Dana Delany, currently doing the voice of Lois Lane on the Warner Bros. Saturday morning cartoon Superman, to be the new Party Girl. Heck, if she’s doing voice-overs on cartoons, she can probably use the work.