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Over the Top

With at least two performances that live up to its title, "Over the Top" takes a shaky premise and tries to run with it, not getting very far. Despite assured work from leads (and co-producers) Tim Curry and Annie Potts, sitcom's hard-to-buy setup doesn't readily invite return viewings.

With at least two performances that live up to its title, “Over the Top” takes a shaky premise and tries to run with it, not getting very far. Despite assured work from leads (and co-producers) Tim Curry and Annie Potts, sitcom’s hard-to-buy setup doesn’t readily invite return viewings.

Thrice-divorced Hadley (Potts) manages an elegantly run-down midtown Manhattan hotel where she lives with her teenage daughter (Marla Sokoloff) and 7-year-old son (Luke Tarsitano), while being variously assisted and hindered by her feisty right-hand woman (Liz Torres) and overemotional chef (Steve Carell). Into her hotel, and life, walks actor Simon Ferguson (Curry), freshly jobless after his soap opera character is killed in a plane crash. He’s Hadley’s Mistake No. 1, and she hasn’t seen him since their 12-day marriage 20 years earlier.

Hadley gets into hot water with the hotel investors after indulging in a few too many cocktails, at Simon’s urging. Apparently she’s still susceptible to the “Ferguson charm,” which in series opener has not developed much past tactless self-centeredness and verbal abuse, albeit delivered with a certain panache. She throws out the offender but, inexplicably, takes him back when she discovers that in truth he’s homeless, and not waiting for his penthouse to be redecorated. We’re supposed to believe she’s tickled to have someone around who reminds her she’s “stark raving mad.” Well, maybe.

Curry’s elocutionary prowess serves him well here, as the insults flow smoothly from Simon’s lips. But there are no big laughs, and as yet no believable chemistry among the characters, all of whom have good timing and well-delivered one-liners, but no real personality. Carell’s utterly over-the-top East European chef, with his singular accent and shrieking, impassioned way of expressing himself, feels like a strained addition to the Mork/Balki tradition of lovable, alien sitcom crazies; with time, perhaps, he might mellow into a more modulated, and less contrived, characterization. Torres is, at times, nicely understated, and, as the sprigs, Sokoloff and Tarsitano often get the best lines, which they handle without cutesiness.

Potts has the most thankless role, as the sweetly harried, sometimes tart, ultimately kind and supportive Hadley. There’s not yet much room for her to strut her stuff, but she makes the most of whatever opportunities come her way. Overall, the setup comes off as a thinly veiled excuse for Curry to do his delightfully bitchy thang.

The two stars may draw auds back, but the material needs to develop a more individual sense of energy and place. Michael Lembeck’s confident direction is somewhat uneven in drawing the best from his strong cast, but the chief problem for “Over the Top” is that, so far, we don’t believe the two lead characters shared a past, however brief; viewers will need to buy into that idea if Curry and Potts are going to have a future together.

Over the Top

Tues. (23) 8:30-9 P.M., ABC

  • Production: Filmed at Culver Studios, Culver City, by Katlin/Bernstein. Prods. and Panamort Television in association with Greengrass Prods. and Columbia TriStar Television. Executive producers, Robert Morton, Mitchel Katlin, Nat Bernstein, Rosalind Moore, Daniel Palladino; producers, Tim Curry, Annie Potts; co-producer, David Litt; director, Michael Lembeck; writers, Bernstein, Katlin.
  • Crew: Camera, Tony Yarlett; editor, Bill Lowe; production designer, David Sackeroff; sound, Peter Damski; music, Rick Marotta; casting, Alice Cassidy.
  • Cast: <B>Cast:</B> Tim Curry, Annie Potts, Luke Tarsitano, Marla Sokoloff, Steve Carell, John O"Hurley, Liz Torres, John Putch, Barry Gordon, Mathea Webb.