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Cathy's World: The Job

By CATHERINE SEIPP   |   March 13, 2002 at 11:46 AM
LOS ANGELES, March 13 (UPI) -- Last week I wrote about "Watching Ellie," the new Julie Louis-Dreyfus vehicle that seems like it should be on HBO, but is instead on network primetime (NBC), where it's getting fairly good ratings despite being pretty awful.

So in the spirit of parallel TV universes, this week I'm writing about "The Job," the new Denis Leary vehicle that also seems like it should be on HBO, but is instead on network primetime (ABC), where it's getting fairly awful ratings despite being pretty good.

But as is often the case with ratings, viewership of these two shows has little to do with quality.

The much-hyped "Watching Ellie," a smarmy vanity production dreamed up by Louis-Dreyfus's husband Brad Hall, benefited from curiosity about what that "Seinfeld" girl was up to and a Tuesday night debut between "Frasier" reruns.

"The Job," starring Leary as a hard-drinking, two-timing New York City cop, actually premiered a year ago and ran for just six episodes before being temporarily yanked.

So the show's return in January was almost a second premiere. After another hiatus for the Olympics, it's now back through at least March 20.

One of the charms of "The Job" is that its creators and cast obviously don't care what anyone thinks. At the ABC press conference, they repeatedly referred to new president Susan Lyne as "very hot."

"I have nothing bad to say about Stu [ousted ABC chief Stu Bloomberg]," noted Leary, "but you know, if it's a choice between Stu and a really hot lady, I'm always going to go with the hot lady. I would like to get some notes from her."

"The Job" has only been picked up for 13 episodes, not a full 22, and someone mentioned that Julia Louis-Dreyfus had refused to commit to more than 15 for her show, as she wanted time to spend with her family.

"Traditionally, if she's a member of the 'Seinfeld' cast," said "The Job"'s co-creator and executive producer Peter Tolan, "she'll be lucky to make it that far."

This is a smart, acidly funny show that deserves a chance, and not just because the people behind it are so refreshingly rude about everyone else in Hollywood, although I do give them extra points for that.

"The Job"'s biggest problem lies not with its content but with its competition: the Wednesday night at 9:30 timeslot means it's up against "The West Wing," NBC's solid hit from the ultra-earnest, ultra-ratings-savvy brain of Aaron Sorkin.

"I think when I take Aaron Sorkin hostage for about six weeks, the ratings are gonna really f...ing change then," said Leary. "Let's see Martin Sheen write that f...ing show."

"A whole different ballgame when Aaron Sorkin disappears," Leary continued, adding (in reference to Sorkin's drug arrest last year), "I've got a bag of mushrooms and a couple of hookers. He's gonna be really happy."

"If we had a stronger penal system," noted Tolan, "then we wouldn't have to make that threat. Why there wasn't some sort of a conviction, I don't even understand. Even community service that would get him out of the writers' room for some period of time."

Alas, Sorkin remains free, and "The Job" has been foundering, despite generally good reviews -- except for a couple of predictable holdouts.

"Where is f...ing Tom Shales?" yelled Denis Leary about the Washington Post TV critic. "Is he here, that son-of-a-bitch?"

"Where is that bastard [Howard] Rosenberg?" added co-star Lenny Clarke about Shales's counterpart at the Los Angeles Times. "I'll kick his ass!"

That language gives a pretty good idea of the tone of the show. But, as Clarke pointed out, "What kind of a family lets a kid stay up late enough to watch us anyway?"

I'd rather have my own 12-year-old watch "The Job," which fairly bristles with intelligence, than something pandering and gratuitously sexualized like NBC's "Sex and the City" rip-off, "Leap of Faith."

"The Job" isn't sentimental about kids. There was a wonderful (and, as it turned out, ad libbed) bit a few episodes ago between Leary's cop character, Mike McNeil, and a pain-in-the-ass sixth-grade girl, who he'd been forced to entertain on a ride-along.

"Ya wanna cigarette?" McNeil asks, as he lights up.

"No, thank-you," the girl answers primly. "Secondhand smoke kills."

"Yeah," agrees McNeil, after a perfectly timed pause. "Not fast enough, apparently.

But the girl gets the last laugh -- as everyone does with McNeil on "The Job" -- ditching him after he sends her into a store to get a snack.

"If underneath it all you know the guy is wrong but you like him," Leary noted, "then you're willing to watch him do anything. In comedy, as long the thing ends up blowing up in the guy's face, you're kind of willing to go along for the ride."

"I've watched TV my whole life," Leary added. "And the best stuff was Archie Bunker and Ralph Kramden and the guys on 'M*A*S*H," you know, all really screwed up people. I mean, Ralph Kramden was a mess, you know, and that's what made him funny."

McNeil's problems this month center around his girlfriend Toni (Karyn Parsons), who wants him to tell his wife about their affair and insists he have dinner with her parents.

Leary's genius is that he's able to make you see his character's side of the story, even though he pulls no punches that the guy's an immoral sleazebag.

"They're wonderful people, Mike," Toni says of her mom and dad. "You'd really like them."

"I don't know about that, honey," McNeil responds. "I haven't met 'em yet and already they're pissing me off.

Warming up, he adds, not unreasonably, "You don't send out adultery cards, you don't march in the adultery day parade, and you don't meet each other's parents."

McNeil's main sidekick is Frank, the about-to-retire precinct veteran perfectly played Leary's old friend, stand-up veteran Lenny Clarke.

In tonight's [Mar. 13] episode, Frank watches another cop, goofy Tommy (Adam Ferrara), drool over a cute blonde brought in for beating up her boyfriend.

"Imagine all that passion released on my manhood," Tommy says.

"Your manhood comes anywhere near my imagination," growls Frank, "I'm shooting you and myself."

Leary based his Mike McNeil character on another old friend, New York City cop Mike Charles. So far, other real-life cops in New York (where the show is entirely shot) seem to appreciate "The Job"'s realism.

Leary recalled coming out of a steakhouse one night, trying to hail a cab, when a disheveled looking guy sidled up to him.

"He walked up and said, 'Denis,'" Leary said. "And he pulled out his badge and goes, 'Just left my wife. Going to my girlfriend's.'"

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