Living in Captivity

You know that times have changed when a sitcom character is somehow able to find a common link between sexual fantasies and the Zapruder film, but that's one of the things we get in this raunchy but fairly promising entry from "Murphy Brown" gurus Diane English and Joel Shukovsky about married life in one of those suburbs where everyone's house looks the same but their bedroom activities decidedly vary.

With:
Curtis Cook - Dondre T. Whitfield Tamara Cook - Kira Arne Carmine Santucci - Lenny Venito Lisa Santucci - Mia Cottet Will Marek - Matthew Letscher Becca Marek - Melinda McGraw Gordon - Terry Rhoads

You know that times have changed when a sitcom character is somehow able to find a common link between sexual fantasies and the Zapruder film, but that’s one of the things we get in this raunchy but fairly promising entry from “Murphy Brown” gurus Diane English and Joel Shukovsky about married life in one of those suburbs where everyone’s house looks the same but their bedroom activities decidedly vary.

What’s unfortunate is that, of three episodes supplied for review, the pilot (from a script by co-executive producer Tom Palmer) is easily the weakest. It details the fallout when a black couple (Dondre T. Whitfield and Kira Arne) moves into the lily-white, gated enclave of Woodland Heights.

Because they’re black, radio DJ Curtis and his very pregnant wife, Tamara — despite being certifiable yuppies — are instantly spied with “there goes the neighborhood” angst, of course. One neighbor accuses them of stealing his barbecue grill. Another goes jogging with him and imagines that Curtis is the gun-toting hood who once robbed him at an ATM. Their response is to make lame white jokes about RVs and mayonnaise.

The primary function of the opener is to introduce us to all of the neighbors. Besides Curtis and Tamara, there are Will Marek (Matthew Letscher) and his wife, Becca (Melinda McGraw). He’s a Prozac-munching novelist with permanent writer’s block. She’s a ball-busting Jewish attorney who misses the city. Together, they bleed dysfunction.

Then we have the cartoony Carmine Santucci (Lenny Venito) and trophy wife Lisa (Mia Cottet). The huckstering “King of Mufflers” in TV commercials, Carmine is an incorrigible, blustering, greased-back, gold-chained slob. His wife is blonde, dense, dominated and (somehow) wholly sexually fulfilled, at one point describing her experience with “the one-hour orgasm.”

The second and third segs tend to steer away from the easy racial punchline, with No. 2 featuring some clever verbal gymnastics and production devices to illustrate the sexual insecurities and practices of the three couples. One cute scene bleeps the racy details in a three-way discussion between Becca, Tamara and Lisa, playing off the myth of the swinging suburbs.

Show would be funnier if it took some of the focus off Venito’s character, who is clearly the least amusing of the lot. Much more effective are Letscher and McGraw, and a scene-stealing turn by Terry Rhoads as a Phil Hartmanlike security guard who is one intruder away from flipping out (which he does in the third seg).

English and Shukovsky may have a schedule-sticker in “Living in Captivity,” if they can keep the situations relatively real and resist the temptation to go too far over the top. So far, they’re batting about .500.

Living in Captivity

Fox; Fri. Sept. 11, 8 p.m.

Production: Filmed in Los Angeles by Shukovsky English Entertainment in association with 20th Century Fox TV. Executive producers, Diane English, Joel Shukovsky, Tom Palmer; producers, John Whitman, Lisa Albert; director, Philip Charles MacKenzie; writer, Palmer.

Crew: Camera, Jim Roberson; production designer, Debe Hale; editor, Tucker Wiard; music, Brian Tyler; sound, Ed Moskowitz; casting, Liberman/Hirschfeld Casting, Debby Gross. 30 MIN.

Cast: Curtis Cook - Dondre T. Whitfield Tamara Cook - Kira Arne Carmine Santucci - Lenny Venito Lisa Santucci - Mia Cottet Will Marek - Matthew Letscher Becca Marek - Melinda McGraw Gordon - Terry Rhoads

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