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Especially in the pilot, Scrubs is burdened with every gimmick that Ally McBeal and its offspring have used to simulate comedy--fantasy scenes, gratuitous sex jokes and sound effects. (Henceforth no TV character should be allowed to do a double-take accompanied by a whoosh sound unless he has a bullwhip attached to his head.) But the show also has a dry, unjaded humor, exemplified by J.D.'s sarcastic mentor, Dr. Cox (John C. McGinley), whose idea of advice is to tell J.D. to wheel a dead patient around (to keep people from giving him more work) but who gruffly teaches his charge how to care for and about patients without going nuts. That's Scrubs: an imperfect but fresh testament to a job that's maddening and noble--but a job nonetheless.
THE WEST WING, RETIRED Citizen Baines CBS Saturdays, 9 p.m. E.T.
The date: Election Day. The protagonist: Elliott Baines, a powerful Democratic Senator out to secure a fourth term. Citizen Baines would seem to have all the ingredients for the kind of fast-talking characters charging down a hallway drama we expect from producer John Wells (E.R., The West Wing). By the end of its first hour, Baines takes those ingredients and flushes them. Baines (Babe's James Cromwell) loses the election, moves back to Seattle and must cope with his loss of clout and work out his relationship with his three grown daughters. (It's King Lear with nicer kids.) He's an intriguing focus for a family drama; for all his public ideals, he's brusque, even cold, in private. As expertly played by Cromwell, he re-enters private life like an alien transplanted into a human body, clumsily mastering ordinary tasks like driving his own car while struggling to find a new sense of purpose. His simple dilemma: How does an ordinary citizen make his life meaningful?
Unfortunately, his daughters are family-melodrama cliches: the careerist lawyer struggling to meet Daddy's expectations (Embeth Davidtz), the wild child (Jacinda Barrett) and the dissatisfied wife (the wonderful but typecast Jane Adams). But if the writers can make them as interesting as Baines' personal journey, this appealingly low-key series could deserve another term.
THIS SOAP MAKES A SPLASH Pasadena Fox Fridays, 9 p.m. E.T.
Granted, being the best prime-time soap in years (following Central Park West, Savannah and Titans) is like being the best ski slope in Florida. But this smart, spooky, sly sudser is not just the best of its breed. It's a breed apart, as much Chinatown as Dallas.
Pasadena rips open the snake's nest of the Greeleys, an old-money media-baron clan. Teenager Lily Greeley McAllister (Alison Lohman) narrates in flashback, telling what happened "before the scandal, before the murder, before the trial" that loom in the show's future. After a drifter breaks into the family home, confronts Lily about a mystery woman ("Tell me where she's buried!") and kills himself, she begins sleuthing her family's twisted history. Grandpa (Philip Baker Hall) kept Catholics and Jews out of Los Angeles' country clubs; Dad (Martin Donovan) is having an affair; and Mom (Dana Delany) knows more about the dead man than she's letting on.