- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 2, 2004

Disobey this ‘Papa’

The odds against a great new sitcom debuting this late in the season are about as steep as holding a winning lottery ticket while getting struck by lightning.

So we shouldn’t be shocked to find NBC’s late-season entry, “Come to Papa,” underwhelming us as efficiently as it does.

The sitcom, a vehicle for stand-up comic Tom Papa, shuffles out of the gate at 8:30 tonight for a tedious half-hour.

It’s not as in-your-face bad as Fox’s forthcoming “Quintuplets,” but it’s hard to imagine anyone getting excited about a second installment.

The show features Mr. Papa as a reporter for a New Jersey newspaper, even though no one in the cast tawks like a Joisey guy or gal.

His pretty wife (Jennifer Aspen) seems amused by his shenanigans, although the rest of us won’t be so good-natured. While Mr. Papa casts a genial spell with his delivery, he doesn’t seem to have a compelling comic vision. Nor, for that matter, does his show.

The pilot’s main story, involving a “crazy” local merchant, might have been interesting if we didn’t have to break for limp subplots, including one about a too-cozy mailman (former NBA standout John Salley) and Tom’s unctuous boss (Steve Carell of “The Daily Show”).

Not every stand-up deserves a sitcom to call his or her own — and if one comes your way at the start of summer, it’s best to run for cover.

Arrivederci, baby

Just when HBO viewers got to know Tony, Carmela and the rest of the wicked “Sopranos” gang all over again, the clan is heading back into hibernation.

This Sunday’s new episode, airing at 9 p.m., wraps the show’s current season, its fifth. Show creator David Chase insists the sixth season will be the show’s last — and given his protracted shooting schedule, who knows when viewers can expect that season to begin?

HBO won’t be keen on losing “The Sopranos” on the heels of the retirement of “Sex and the City” earlier this year, so we might see some last-minute negotiations to keep the show alive.

This season, Tony Soprano (James Gandolfini, as charismatic as he is thuggish) has dealt with a separation from Carmela (Edie Falco) and a fractured reunion with his cousin Tony Blundetto (Steve Buscemi, whose days appear numbered given his character’s loose-cannon behavior).

The show’s uncommon mixture of gallows humor and pathos remains unmatched on the small screen, and its loss will be felt sharply by fans of groundbreaking television.

The show rarely wraps up its loose ends by season’s end, so we shouldn’t count on Tony’s frosty dealings with fellow mob boss Johnny Sacks to reach a crescendo this weekend. A pair of “Sopranos” regulars, including Mr. Buscemi’s character and an increasingly erratic Christopher Moltisanti (Michael Imperioli, wrapping a stellar season) could be headed for the great beyond, “Sopranos” style.

Christopher’s fiancee/FBI informant Adriana (Drea de Matteo) learned the hard way in the penultimate episode what happens to those who cross the Sopranos.

Hooray for ‘Howie’

The man who once blew up surgical gloves by tugging them over his face and exhaling is bringing his shtick to Bravo.

The network has ordered six episodes of a Howie Mandel vehicle originally set up at its NBC corporate sibling, Reuters News Agency reports.

The tentatively titled “Hidden Howie” could air on the cable network sometime toward year’s end. The improvisational half-hour series stars Mr. Mandel as himself interacting with a mix of actors and real people.

“Howie” also will incorporate hidden-camera skits similar to segments he performs on NBC’s “The Tonight Show With Jay Leno.”

Co-starring with Mr. Mandel are Julie Warner (“Nip/Tuck”) as his wife and Estelle Harris (“Seinfeld”) as his grandmother.

The “Howie” pilot was shot last year for NBC, which ultimately passed. Undeterred, Mr. Mandel retooled the concept and re-shot the project. Such is the safety net that is cable TV these days, although to be fair, cable often provides a better forum for edgy programming.

The new pilot got traction at Bravo, which has tapped NBC’s pilot field before for programing — as it did with, for example, another improvisational series, the relationship dramedy “Significant Others.”

That show, which tracked a number of couples coping with crisis, has proved a critical hit for Bravo.

Mr. Mandel joins a growing Bravo roster of actors fronting projects of personal interest, including Ben Affleck (“Project Greenlight,” originally seen on HBO) and Ewan McGregor (“Long Way Round”).

Compiled by Christian Toto from staff and wire reports.

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