The good news about Brooke Shields’ series debut is that after some well-publicized retooling, “Suddenly Susan” has been packaged as a fairly hip ensemble show built around a star with a genuine comic flair. Like most freshman efforts, the writing and production push too hard and in too many directions.
But “Suddenly Susan” has keeper potential, if Warner Bros. only lets the story of a young woman striking out on her own for the first time have some room to grow. The show opens with Susan (Shields) fleeing her wedding to the rich kid who happens to be the brother of her boss at a San Francisco weekly. Though her parents are dumbfounded, her knowing grandmother (wonderfully played by Barbara Barrie) is all for the declaration of independence. Susan begs the boss (Judd Nelson) for her job back as a copy editor; instead, he tells her that, “Suddenly, Susan, you’re interesting,” and assigns her a column. Soon she’s getting drunk, smoking cigars and singing karaoke. OK, so it sounds dreadful, and some of it is. But in addition to Barrie and Nelson, the producers have surrounded Shields with an appealing ensemble that seems to have migrated west from the Chicago magazine at which Jamie Lee Curtis and Richard Lewis worked in “Anything But Love” a few years back. There’s plenty of story potential in this crowd. Of course, Shields will be the primary attraction. Like Cybill Shepherd and Candice Bergen, Shields has been foiled in the past by her beauty (not to mention some terrible career choices). It took “Moonlighting” and “Murphy Brown” to prove that Shepherd and Bergen not only had comic talent, but that they were game enough to send up the very qualities that had worked against them in the past. Shields is luckier, having won or grabbed her opportunity earlier. Shepherd and Bergen were blessed with directors who gave them great confidence in their abilities. Andy Ackerman isn’t that director for Shields, at least not on the initial evidence, in which the actress seems too often to be fighting the camera. Nevertheless, she puts both her imposing height and her beauty in the service of some classic slapstick business. As a result, she’s easy to root for. The editor is right Susan is interesting.