Sitcom City

PUBLISHED : Monday, 22 February, 1999, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 22 February, 1999, 12:00am

It took TVB planners years to realise that Monday night is not the night for endless earnest news programmes, but someone finally saw sense at the end of 1997 and broke up the dismal 90-minute entertainment-free zone of The Pearl Report, The Wall Street Journal and 20/20 with Spin City at 8pm.

Later, after some tinkering, Seinfeld appeared one hour after, deliberately intended to chip away at ATV's only drama series slot, which included Chicago Hope, The Practice and finally Ali McBeal.

The experiment continued, despite disappointing ratings, with Veronica's Closet, (one chick sitcom clashing with another, most tiresome).

From this evening, the heavy stuff is stripped back still further and we get a sitcom double bill, starting with a second series of Spin City (Pearl, 8.30pm) and more Seinfeld (Pearl, 9pm).

Spin City is still in its infancy as sitcoms go, and Michael J Fox's battle with Parkinson's Disease may sadly mean that it can never reach the nine-season record achieved by Seinfeld.

But placed side to side as they are this evening, there is no doubt which is the funnier show.

In the first episode of Seinfeld, the entire cast are reduced to their most annoying attributes. This is familiar enough to be funny, but not laugh-out-loud funny. George, for example, spends the entire episode obsessing about his favourite baseball team's polyester uniforms. Jerry chats up Miss Rhode Island, but it is Kramer who ends up coaching her for the Miss America contest. Elaine insults a prospective employer, and accidentally misleads another with a sudden Jackie O impersonation.

Kramer's improbable expertise in beauty pageants is the high point of the episode, which otherwise doesn't really take off. It is feeble starter for a whole series, and we can only hope someone has some relationship trauma, or a really big fight, just to get things going again.

Spin City is a much smoother piece of ensemble acting altogether, and the jokes are far more obvious, and if the laughs come easier because of that, why not, that is what sitcoms are for.

Last season ended with the mayor and Paul escaping side by side for an impromptu guys weekend in Florida, and Mike and the team spend most of this evening's episode trying to convince the press that this was not an attempted flight from responsibility at all.

Paul, poor dummy, even has to feign madness (little feigning is required in the end) to distract the hacks from uncovering the truth.

And the mayor wants Mike to represent him in his upcoming divorce, leading to one of the best lawyer jokes in the episode. 'You went to law school didn't you' pleads the mayor. 'Who didn't?' says Mike.