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New Characters Deaden ‘I Spy’ Reunion

By John Martin New York Times Syndicate

Some TV reunions are better on paper than they are on the tube. Unfortunately that was the case when Bill Cosby and Robert Culp returned to the job as secret agents Alexander Scott and Kelly Robinson in CBS’ nostalgic 1994 “I Spy Returns,” repeated at 9.

The ground-breaking original series (1965-68), TV’s first drama with a black star, was best known for the hip dialogue between the two stars as they traveled the world encountering one villain after another.

It’s well-known that much of the snappy banter was ad-libbed. That chemistry and stunning international locations were strong enough to make up for the by-the-book plots.

Cosby and Culp show they can recreate their on-camera magic, but unfortunately the rest of the teleplay is too thin to sustain interest. Scott and Robinson are reunited after an unexplained 20-year separation when their children, rookie secret agents Nicole Scott (Salli Richardson) and Bennett Robinson (George Newbern) are dispatched to Vienna on their first overseas mission.

The two dads tag along just to make sure nothing goes wrong. Of course, plenty does, as a routine assignment turns into a deadly international showdown.

The problem lies with unspectacular performances by Richardson and Newbern, who slug their way through spy nonsense more typical of the James Bond ‘60s than anything you’ve seen recently. At times it plays as much like a spoof of “Get Smart” as it does an “I Spy” reprise.

Highlights

“Grace Under Fire,” ABC at 8: Grace and Russell (Brett Butler, Dave Thomas), agreeing to “just be friends,” visit a singles’ bar where Grace targets a guy (Mark Tymchyshyn) she thinks is right for a meaningless fling. Repeat.

“NewsRadio,” NBC at 8: In a pair of repeats, Dave and Bill (Dave Foley, Phil Hartman) get stranded in a St. Louis airport where Bill does the snide, superior New Yorker thing, much to Dave’s embarrassment.

At 8:30, Matthew (Andy Dick) is visited by his twin brother (guest star Jon Stewart), and Jimmy (Stephen Root) institutes a cost-cutting plan that brings chaos to the WNYX newsroom.

“R.S.V.P.: The World’s Funniest Party Disasters No. 2,” FOX at 8: Just what we needed: another funny home-video hour. The theme is mishaps at various celebrations. You have to laugh. But this show is like fat-free snack foods - filling, though not very satisfying. Repeat.

“China: Born Under a Red Flag,” KSPS at 8: You could call this China 101. It’s an excellent primer on China, from the Communist Revolution, through the Mao Zedong era and the transformation that followed his death. Peasants, former political prisoners, students and intellectuals speak out - according to the filmmakers - for the first time.

“Law & Order,” NBC at 10: The network repeats this season’s “trilogy,” which takes detectives Briscoe and Curtis (Jerry Orbach, Benjamin Bratt) to Los Angeles in pursuit of a murder suspect who flees New York City.

Typically, both cops and prosecutors tread through tricky legal waters. Janeane Garofalo guest stars.

Cable Calls

“Perfect Crime” (1997), USA at 9: There’s plenty of suspense in this knotty, fact-based tale of an alcoholic ex-Marine (Nick Searcy) who kills his Marine wife (Jasmine Guy) and disposes of her body without a trace. Mitzi Kapture (“Silk Stalkings”) plays the civilian Naval investigator assigned to the case.

Searcy is particularly menacing, and Kapture is effective in an unglamorous way. This is better than most network fact-based crime stories.

Talk Time

“Tonight,” NBC at 11:35: Actor Martin Short and actress Linda Fiorentino.

“Late Show With David Letterman,” CBS at 11:35: David Duchovny (“The X-Files”) and music group Sponge. Repeat.

“Politically Incorrect With Bill Maher,” ABC at 12:35 a.m.: Clive Barker and Wil Shriner.

“Late Night With Conan O’Brien,” NBC at 12:35 a.m.: Dr. Ruth Westheimer.

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