BetteBack: How Do The New Divas Of TV Rank?

Ranking the divas; Davis and Baranski are adequate, but Midler is your best Bette.(Arts and Lifestyle)
Article from:The Boston Herald Article date:October 10, 2000 Author: Collins, Monica

“The Geena Davis Show”

Premieres tonight at 9:30 on ABC (WCVB, Ch. 5)

2 stars (out of four)



Premieres tomorrow at 8 p.m. on CBS (WBZ, Ch. 4)

3 stars


Welcome To New York

Premieres tomorrow at 8:30p.m. on CBS (WBZ, Ch. 4)

1 1/2 stars


What does it take to be a diva on TV? Well, for starters, you need your name in the title of the show. Both Bette Midler and Geena Davis have the perk. Christine Baranski, who stars in CBS’ “Welcome To New York,” doesn’t rate the mention.

Much has been made of Davis’ and Midler’s star turn to television. Baranski – who came to mass-market notice on TV when she played the cynical sidekick to Cybill Shepherd on the vanity-titled “Cybill” – was a late addition to her current sitcom.

Here’s the critical skinny on these robust, let-’em-rip ladies:

** Bette Midler has a larger-than-life persona that seems made for television. That she hasn’t starred in her own comedy series until now seems like a shame. But here she is, and she’s huge. When Midler grabs the camera, you really can’t take your eyes off her.

No sappy sitcom story was good enough for Bette. She really couldn’t play a suburban housewife coping with teenagers, or a New York single mom trying to have it all amid the pressures of parenthood. Nope. Bette had to play Bette – the only situation that would not force Bette into a box.

Here, she’s a Hollywood legend – on the downside of fame – who has a loving marriage (Kevin Dunn is man enough to play hubby), a teenage daughter and a best friend, Connie (Joanna Gleason). In more art aping life, Midler’s longtime friend and business partner, BONNIE Bruckheimer, is one of the executive producers of “Bette.”

Here, Bette is a howl. An adorable howl. Who can look at Bette Midler and not be charmed? She’s always made a career of poking fun at herself. The TV comedy allows her to skewer her image even more and with delight.

In the premiere, we meet Bette scarfing Cheetos backstage while waiting for her cue to go out on the concert stage and perform. We learn this is a woman obsessed with junk food. “Oh please,” says Bette, “let the show come down before Popeye’s closes.”

At the party after the show, she has a deep hunger for appetizers and compliments, eating the food off Danny DeVito’s plate and noticing Patti LaBelle because “she has a chicken leg.”

“Bette” is filled with star mentions. Cher and Sally Field (who won the best actress Oscar for “Norma Rae” the year Midler was nominated for “The Rose“) get acerbic passing references.

DeVito, who has starred with Midler in such successful films as “Ruthless People,” is one of the cameo players in “Bette.” He offers her a job playing his mother in a movie. Even before she hears about the role, Bette runs off to the plastic surgeon. She calls up the doctor declaring she has an emergency – “a Cher-sized emergency,” according to Midler.

According to this week’s Time magazine, Midler is having trouble lining up other stars to shine in her parade. Reportedly, Jack Nicholson has passed. So have Candice Bergen and Lily Tomlin.

Maybe Bette is Bette’s best bet. The funniest scenerio in the premiere episode features the singer hamming as she decides to adapt “younger” music to her boogie-woogie style, trying to retune the songs of Anthrax, Hole and Kid Rock.

“Bette” is a true vanity production. In that, the new comedy smashes through the usual wall of indifference – although not entirely with four-star brilliance. As an 8 o’clock show, the comedy must be a bit more safer than if “Bette” had gotten a later time slot.

No matter the time, you will watch this for Bette, a diva deluxe.

** Geena Davis is less successful at creating a sitcom persona. She might have had a better shot at it if she had left the fiance at home.

She plays Teddy, a workaholic single woman who, in the prelude to the first episode, tells us that she thinks cooking involves delivery of Chinese food and throwing a party means ordering a few extra cartons. For her, exercise is running for a cab. Her two best friends, Hillary and Judy (Mimi Rogers and Kim Coles), are all she needs for soulmates.

Then, she meets Max (Peter Horton), a widower with two children, and the show goes downhill from there.

The humor is supposed to be found in Teddy’s awkward attempts to fit into Max’s suburban life as a new stepmom. Yet, Davis’ struggles to be the nurturer are awkward at best.

The show’s kids are cute enough. But the little girl (Makenzie Vega) is a brat and the teenage boy (John Francis Daley) is age-appropriate surly. Teddy, of course, immediately alienates the longtime housekeeper (Esther Scott) by calling her, well, a housekeeper.

Better to have let Geena be Geena, playing a single gal on the make and on the move rather than a suburban misfit. The best scenes are of her at work, or her gabbing with the girlfriends.

“The Geena Davis Show” features a diffident diva. It will not last.

** Christine Baranski plays a wildly egocentric, Type A personality in “Welcome To New York.” Her natural force may not be enough to save this half-baked show.

Baranski is Marsha Bickner, the executive producer of a morning TV show in New York. She hires weatherman Jim Gaffigan (played by the comic of the same name) from an Indiana station in order to spice up the ratings. Gaffigan is a David Letterman doppelganger.

Letterman, of course, started his career as an Indiana weatherman. His company, Worldwide Pants, produces “Welcome To New York.”

In the first episode, Baranski’s Bickner and Gaffigan’s Gaffigan go for a drunken lunch and end up pawing each other which, for a moment, is fish-out-of-water amusing but not at all sustaining. “Welcome” quickly wears out. Baranski is a diva wasted.

The only reason to enjoy this is Rocky Carroll, who plays the vain anchorman upset because Gaffigan also wears glasses. The show, after all, isn’t big enough for two four-eyes. Narcissism run amok – it probably happens in TV much more than we know.

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