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Published: Saturday, 2/2/2008

Midseason mediocrity: Neither 'Captain,' nor 'Lipstick Jungle' shows staying power

BY MIKE KELLY
SPECIAL TO THE BLADE
Marty (Chris Klein, left),  Uncle Saul (Jeffrey Tambor, center) and Josh (Fran Kranz) are among the offbeat residents of El Capitan apartments in the CBS sitcom <i>Welcome to the Captain</i>, premiering Monday. Marty (Chris Klein, left), Uncle Saul (Jeffrey Tambor, center) and Josh (Fran Kranz) are among the offbeat residents of El Capitan apartments in the CBS sitcom <i>Welcome to the Captain</i>, premiering Monday.
Enlarge

No matter what they thought of President Bush's State of the Union Address this week, both Republicans and Democrats would agree that it accomplished at least one good thing:

It postponed the premiere of a disappointing sitcom on CBS.

But the delay was only temporary, and now Welcome to the Captain, the network's newest midseason show, will have its debut at 8:30 p.m. Monday, a week later than originally scheduled. (Apparently CBS programmers were caught off guard by the news that the President of the United States likes to make a little speech each year around the end of January.)

The new series is one of the last pieces of scripted programming that CBS has on hand, thanks to the prolonged Hollywood writers' strike, and it would be nice to say that it's worth waiting the extra week for its debut. Yeah, it would be nice, but it wouldn't be true.

Welcome to the Captain is about an eclectic group of people who live in an old Hollywood apartment building called El Capitan, which they've cleverly dubbed "The Captain." Its main character is a shlub named Josh Flug, played by Fran Kranz, a bland but pleasant enough actor.

Josh is a struggling screenwriter who just broke up with his girlfriend and is ready to move back to New York. But his best pal Marty (Chris Klein, American Pie) convinces him to give Hollywood one more chance and tips him off to a vacant apartment in the building where Marty lives, a 75-year-old place constructed in a "Spanish and French Renaissance Revival Style."

Once there, Josh encounters a menagerie of oddballs. First and foremost is Uncle Saul, played by the great comic actor Jeffrey Tambor (The Larry Sanders Show, Arrested Development). Saul is a former sitcom writer who's an expert on everybody's business, and he's lived at The Captain seemingly forever - or as he puts it, "through four marriages and 79 episodes of a little TV show called Three's Company."

Then there's Jesus, the gossipy "daytime attendant" (comedian Al Madrigal), who insists that people pronounce his name "JEE-zus" rather than "HAY-zoos." And Astrid, a flighty young actress who puts "S's" in front of random words for no apparent reason, saying things like "swhatever," and "no sway," and "oh, smy god."

Starring in <i>Lipstick Jungle</i> are, from left, Brooke Shields as Wendy, Kim Raver as Nico and Lindsay Price as Victory. Starring in <i>Lipstick Jungle</i> are, from left, Brooke Shields as Wendy, Kim Raver as Nico and Lindsay Price as Victory.
ANDREW ECCLES / AP Enlarge

One of the weirdest denizens of The Captain is Charlene, an aging actress who still sees herself as a red-hot seductress. Perhaps a little too perfectly typecast in that role is onetime seductress Raquel Welch, who was a bona fide movie bombshell way back when many of the people reading this story weren't even born.

Today, however, the 67-year-old Welch displays the frozen countenance of a creature who has had more plastic surgery than Phyllis Diller. When Charlene puts the moves on Josh, it's not funny; it's genuinely disturbing, in a Stephen King kind of way.

The only relatively normal person in the building is Hope, a cute, aspiring acupuncturist (Joanna Garcia, Reba) who likes to use Josh as a practice pin cushion. Of course, he develops a crush on her, and of course, she's oblivious to it.

The executive producer of Welcome to the Captain is John Hamburg, who has made a nice career out of writing successful, by-the-numbers movie scripts for Ben Stiller. In Meet the Parents, Zoolander, and Along Came Polly, Hamburg created basically the same type of quirky, neurotic character for Stiller to play.

Now in his first TV series, he's given us an entire apartment building full of - what else? - quirky, neurotic characters. Hilarity is certain to ensue.

Or not.

Tambor's character is the only one on the show who is even vaguely funny, and even he gets a bit tiresome after a while. The network has just six episodes of the series available for airing, but that should be more than enough.

I'd be surprised if it takes most viewers even that long to bid farewell to The Captain.

This is apparently the season for watered-down knockoffs of the steamy HBO series Sex and the City. First there was Cashmere Mafia, which premiered on ABC a few weeks ago. That one featured four smart, successful, and attractive women living in New York City, struggling to balance their hectic work and personal lives.

NBC will premiere its own version of Sex and the City Lite at 10 p.m. Thursday. It's called Lipstick Jungle, and it will feature three smart, successful, and attractive women living in New York City, struggling to well, you know.

It stars 42-year-old Brooke Shields (Suddenly Susan) and 38-year-old Kim Raver (24), both of whom appear a bit too old for the up-and-coming characters they're portraying. Only 31-year-old Lindsay Price (Beverly Hills 90210) seems convincing as the third member of the power trio.

Like Cashmere Mafia before it, Lipstick Jungle has a solid connection to the successful HBO series that it's copying. It's based on the latest best-selling novel by Candace Bushnell, who created Sex and the City.

Cashmere Mafia, meanwhile, was created by the guy who served as executive producer of Sex and the City.

Neither one of the new series seems likely to last (if one of them does, my money is on the more entertaining Cashmere Mafia), but fans of the original cable series shouldn't lose heart. The long-awaited Sex and the City feature film is scheduled for release in theaters this spring.



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