- The Washington Times - Monday, March 12, 2001

LOS ANGELES He's a sexy rocker with a sly sense of humor. They are two of the most artful writers in television, with "Northern Exposure" among their credits.
Team Chris Isaak with Diane Frolov and Andrew Schneider on a comedy series, and it turns out to be a perfect match.
"The Chris Isaak Show" (debuting 10 tonight on Showtime) is a zesty romp through a fictionalized version of Mr. Isaak's on- and offstage life, with the musician playing a droll version of himself.
Comparisons can be made to HBO's "The Larry Sanders Show," Garry Shandling's talk-show spoof, and some are apt. Mr. Isaak is backed by colorful supporting characters, and such celebrities as actress Minnie Driver and singer Stevie Nicks drop in as themselves.
The show has a gleeful sexuality and unfettered language as in "Larry Sanders."
But the hourlong program has its own Alice-in-Wonderland spirit and soulful charm. The series even wanders through a kind of looking glass: A mermaid-stocked aquarium in the club where Mr. Isaak and his Silvertone band perform.
The camera follows the mermaid to a back room where she turns out to be a nude beauty (Bobby Jo Moore) making languid movements in front of special-effects mirrors. The mysterious Mona acts as Mr. Isaak's counselor, offering sound advice that he promptly ignores.
(Mr. Isaak's real-life mother also is on hand to advise him.)
"The Chris Isaak Show" has the distinction of being one of the few projects about show business that makes a viewer want to seek an audition instead of a cleansing shower.
This isn't the seamy, back-stabbing biz we generally see. Hanging with Mr. Isaak and the band, making music videos with such stars as Bai Ling and getting banana bread from a friendly stalker are carefree fun.
Mr. Isaak's willingness to mock himself anchors the adventure. His good looks even come with a built-in comic fillip: his Bob Hope ski-jump nose that adds a mischievous twist.
In the opening episodes, Mr. Isaak is teased by his friends as a cheapskate who reuses disposable cups (with lipstick stains) and plays peeping Tom when a woman dances naked in a hotel room across from his.
Chris Isaak, is this really your life?
"If it was untrue but funny, we'd lie. Verisimilitude and reality are low, high jinks and mirth are high. If it was funnier, I'd play a dentist," Mr. Isaak says in an interview.
Reality does creep in: The exhibitionist dancer was based on one who teased him during a movie shoot, and he admits to a frugal life. Mr. Isaak said his TV house is bigger and better than his own modest one.
"If the show gets canceled, I want to buy the furniture," says Mr. Isaak, who shares a producer credit on the series, which is set in San Francisco but filmed in Vancouver.
Mr. Isaak, whose songs include "Baby Did a Bad Bad Thing" (used in the Tom Cruise-Nicole Kidman movie "Eyes Wide Shut") cut back on touring to squeeze in the 17-episode series.
The occasional actor claims he didn't expect to land a show.
"I was trying to get free lunches out of people in Los Angeles," he says. "You have a meeting; you talk about, 'Yeah, it will be like "Larry Sanders" and "Seinfeld" and "Leave It to Beaver" and I'll have the lobster, please,' " he says.
Then Showtime surprised him and said yes.
"I feel like the dog that caught the car… . It's a lot of work doing TV," he says.
He gets excellent backup, particularly from cast members Jed Rees ("Galaxy Quest") as a wayward band member and Kristin Dattilo as a high-strung agent. Mr. Isaak's real band members get into the spirit of things.
Then there's the magic provided by Frolov and Schneider. Mr. Isaak's show is reminiscent of the wry quirkiness of "Northern Exposure," the 1990-95 CBS series set in a tiny Alaskan town.
By focusing on Mr. Isaak's neighborhood, the writers say, they hope to create the sense of another close-knit community. They also have a backbeat to work with this time.

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