In compliance with the Kirstie Alley Fame Preservation Act of 1998, TV Land has cast her in the role she is most comfortable playing — that of the vain, zaftig, wisecracking actress whose long celebrity ride is now fueled mainly by fumes. It is not a reality show.
Instead, “Kirstie” (premiering Wednesday night) does a trusty job of paying TV Land-style homage to some increasingly moribund aspects of the old sitcom genre, down to informing us that “Kirstie” is filmed before a (I hope volunteer) studio audience. It is neither a good nor a terrible show; it's just a show. Mostly it's as if TV Land borrowed the Disney Channel's sitcom-making contraption and adjusted the content dial from sassafras tween to bawdy adult. Presto — more boob jokes.
Alley plays Madison Banks, a Broadway semi-legend. At home, her demands are met by her long-suffering assistant Thelma (played by fellow “Cheers” alum Rhea Perlman) and her driver Frank (“Seinfeld's” Michael Richards). Madison's life is upended when Arlo (Eric Petersen), the son she gave up for adoption some three decades ago, shows up in search of the birth mother he never knew. His adoptive parents have died and he feels a need to connect. Or move into a spare bedroom, since it's a sitcom.
Who was the father? “It could have been any number of guys in the summer stock production of 'Jesus Christ Superstar,' ” Madison guesses.
“Any number?!” Arlo asks.
“Well, not any number,” she snaps. “There were only 12 apostles.”
The banter continues like that and, if nothing else, the dialogue is sharply written and executed, pretty much always on-point. “Kirstie” is an assemblage of professionals whose only mistake was to outlive this particular style of sitcom and who should nevertheless find refuge with whatever audience still misses such fare.
“Apparently I'm good enough to hold your weed in airports, but not your secrets,” Frank huffs when he realizes he's the last to learn Madison's news. Of the three sitcom vets — Alley, Perlman and Richards — he seems most evidently happy to be back on TV.
The show gets extra juice from guest stars — Cloris Leachman cameos a few weeks from now as Madison's bitter, drunk mother; Kristin Chenoweth plays Madison's conniving understudy in the Broadway play. Still, it's difficult to escape the show's plasticky veneer and misplaced exuberance. You can't fault “Kirstie” and company for merely wanting a little of what Betty White, Fran Drescher and the rest are having. Sometimes it seems like cable networks exist simply to make room for stars who feel they aren't finished being on TV.
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We all have our pop-culture blind spots, and one of mine is that I don't share the fascination for organized crime. If the storytelling doesn't rise to the level of the first two “Godfather” films (or “Goodfellas,” “The Sopranos” and a very few others, including, lately, “Boardwalk Empire”), I'd just as soon not bother with the mob.
But Frank Darabont's “Mob City,” a three-week “television event” on TNT, might well be an uphill climb for even the most die-hard mob-noir or Jewish Mafia enthusiasts; you'll have to equal Darabont's beyond-fetishistic appreciation for a bygone Los Angeles and such crime legends as Bugsy Siegel, Mickey Cohen, et al. You'll also need a forgiving ear for deliberately cliche dialogue (as befits the form) and sets that are stylized with the high-def colors of dime-store pulp covers. It could very well be a six-hour play session with James Ellroy paper dolls.
“Mob City,” based pretty loosely on John Buntin's history book “L.A. Noir: The Struggle for the Soul of America's Most Seductive City,” focuses on the late 1940s, when a high-minded police chief (Neal McDonough) tries to loosen organized crime's grip on the city. Jon Bernthal (who played Shane, one of many casualties on “The Walking Dead”) stars as Detective Joe Teague, a World War II veteran now navigating his way between the war on crime and the spoils of it.
There's a significant pile out back of dead noir films and noir-ish TV shows — “Gangster Squad,” starring Ryan Gosling, being a recent costly example; CBS's “Vegas,” starring Dennis Quaid, being another, and Starz's wan “Magic City” being yet another. At times it feels like Darabont and his gang have been picking through all those for scrap.
Once assembled, “Mob City” has a slick sheen and a sure trigger finger that unleashes a stream of bullets. But the guns here are the kind that go “ho-hum” instead of “bang-bang.”
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(30 minutes) premieres Wednesday at 10 p.m. on TV Land.
(two hours) premieres Wednesday at 9 p.m. on TNT. Continues Dec. 11 and concludes Dec. 18.