Short Takes

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You have to say this about Fox sitcoms: They've certainly got a style. RACHEL GUNN, R.N., the network's new Sunday-night entry, displays all the earmarks that TV critics have grown to know and hate: broad gags, crass caricatures and a nervy avoidance of sentimentality. The show, set in a kooky hospital, has no pretensions to realism, or even to common sense, and the jokes seem a quaint throwback to an earlier comedy era ("You can call me a doubting Thomas -- or you can call me Marlo Thomas . . ."). What makes it work is the zingy performances by Christine Ebersole (as feisty but lovable Nurse Gunn) and Kevin Conroy (as a conceited surgeon), two pros who tackle this fluff as if it were Moliere.


Passion and Chintz

Like fellow cartoonists Jules Feiffer and Garry Trudeau, William Hamilton of the New Yorker plainly reckons that an eye for the absurdities of character and an ear for dialogue make him a playwright. But unlike those colleagues, he seems not to have grasped the basic dramatic principle that showing is better than telling. In his INTERIOR DECORATION, at San Diego's Old Globe Theater, a woman executive senses her biological clock ticking and fancies an even fancier executive as a sperm donor, but no more. They are introduced by their mutual interior decorators, and romantic complications ensue. Most of them, alas, happen offstage and are reported in monologues by the decorators.



Three murderous drug dealers (Billy Bob Thornton, Michael Beach, Cynda Williams) blast and bludgeon their way from Los Angeles to rural Arkansas and a face-off against a hick sheriff (Bill Paxton). Tracing a similar itinerary, ONE FALSE MOVE has snaked across the country. Too pensive for the action houses and way too violent for the croissant crowd, the movie has earned many critics' indulgences. It does have some B-movie virtues: director Carl Franklin gives the actors space to breathe the rancid air of paperback tough- guy tragedy; and Williams, with her lovely insolence, looks like star quality from here. But to pin four-star raves on this modest melodrama is to mistake a 7-Eleven candy snatcher for a master thriller killer.


Psychiatrist, Heal Thyself

Just in time for the annual August vacation of psychiatrists there arrives a splendid mystery set in the Jerusalem Psychoanalytic Institute. In THE SATURDAY MORNING MURDER (HarperCollins; $20), by Batya Gur, an analyst has been murdered. The suspects include her psychologically astute colleagues, who harbor mixed feelings about the victim.

The author sketches characters with deft, quick brushstrokes. Her chief detective is a former scholar who spots similarities between medieval guilds and the rigidly hierarchical institute. Throughout, Gur draws intriguing parallels between psychoanalysis and police detection. They are both lonely jobs, she writes, demanding time, patience and a sharp ear for the things that are not said.


Who's on First

The voice isn't what it was. Age and hard use have diminished its power so that, in his top register, ROGER DALTREY sounds like Jackie Wilson with strep throat. But the Who's former lead singer still has his cunning and intensity, on exemplary display in the new album Rocks in the Head. Best of all, Daltrey has found a stellar songwriting partner in producer Gerard McMahon. They get caustic in the power-pop You Can't Call It Love, sweetly paternal in Everything a Heart Could Ever Want (Willow) and incandescent in the set's first single, Days of Light. This infectious blue-collar anthem, which laces Crosby, Stills & Nash harmonies through a tune reminiscent of Dire Straits' Walk of Life, should keep roadhouses hopping in a daze of light every weekend this summer.