'Herman's Head' is too cluttered with caricatures

MAYBE THERE is more than a kernel of truth behind "Herman's Head." The general state of the world is probably a bit easier to comprehend if it turns out the human brain really is run by four hackneyed sitcom characters.

That's the premise of this Fox show that premieres Sunday night at 9:30 on Channel 45 (WBFF). Herman Brooks himself, played by William Ragsdale, is a nice enough guy, an aspiring writer working in the fact-checking department of a magazine publisher. This half-hour will follow the trials and tribulations of his single-and-struggling-in-New-York life.


Except that every time a trial or tribulation occurs, we go inside Herman's head where characters representing his libido, his intellect, his virtue and his anxiety discuss the appropriate response.

They do this on a rather ragtag set that's supposed to represent the inside of his brain. The libido, an overweight character in a lounge chair, is named Animal, played by Ken Hudson Campbell, who burps and grunts and talks dirty. The intellect is a man named Genius, played by Center Stage veteran Peter MacKenzie as a rather prim and proper type. Virtue is a woman called Angel, played by Molly Hagen, who's all for romance and goodness. Anxiety, also known as Wimp, played by Rick Lawless, is a guy trying to do a young Woody Allen impersonation.


Their extended bits might take a minute or two on screen but occupy only a millisecond in Herman's thought processes as he decides on the appropriate course of action.

The device is as silly and clumsy as it sounds, weighing down "Herman's Head" with caricatured characters and clunky rTC dialogue at every twist and turn.

And, bad enough that his head is filled with sitcom stereotypes -- his office is, too. There's Jane Sibbett, who played the insufferable beautiful type on "The Famous Teddy Z," doing the same in this. The cute-but-not-pretty secretary who has her eye on every guy is played by Yeardley Smith (Name ring a bell? Close your eyes and you'll hear Lisa Simpson). Jason Bernard is the tough-guy boss, and Hank Azaria (the voices of Moe the bartender and Apu the convenience store operator on "The Simpsons") is the constantly-on-the-make best friend Jay.

In the opening episode, Jay breaks up with his girlfriend Connie, played by Corinne Bohrer, who comes to Herman looking for solace and, eventually, a bit more. The reaction in his head is predictable, Animal urging Herman to go for it, Angel looking for a bit of romance, Wimp scared of being found out, Genius trying to mediate.

In both cases, the final resolution is the Grade A, government approved, socially acceptable one, though the producers of "Herman's Head" clearly know that they're on after "Married . . . with Children" as they don't miss an opportunity for a double-entendre or a crude sexual reference around the office. Indeed, there's probably someone on the writing staff whose full-time job is to come up with allegedly hilarious euphemisms for the sex act that Animal can use on prime time television to the great delight of the laugh track.

But, just when you're ready to brush off "Herman's Head" like an annoying piece of dandruff, you find yourself laughing. There's some talent behind this, some genuine cleverness, even, occasionally, in between all the off-color stuff, a nice take on the way thought processes actually work.

Ragsdale is an appealing actor and makes Herman a likable character. There's a solid single-guy kind of relationship with his friend Jay. And the whole alone-in-the-big-city aspect works quite well.

"Herman's Head" is reminiscent of all those gimmicky sitcoms that followed the success of "Mork & Mindy" a decade ago. The networks and producers thought people watched "Mork & Mindy" because it was about an alien from outer space, not because it starred Robin Williams.


The best example of this is "Bosom Buddies." That show had two great comic actors -- Tom Hanks and Peter Scolari -- yet its producers thought the only way they were going to make you laugh was to dress them up in women's clothes. What a drag! It finally killed the show. Imagine being the producer who couldn't make a sitcom with Tom Hanks work.

The inside-the-brain stuff is the gimmick of "Herman's Head" that should be de-emphasized immediately. The focus should be on Herman's actual life, traveling to the inner dimension only for a killer laugh or line, the way HBO's "Dream On" uses clips from old TV shows to illustrate its central characters' thoughts.

"Herman's Head" doesn't look like a place you'd want to visit every week. Herman's life looks a lot more interesting.

"Herman's Head"

** Herman is a single guy struggling to keep his job as a magazine fact-checker in New York. At various moments in his life, you head inside his brain where characters representing aspects of his personality duke it out as they decide on his course of action.

CAST: William Ragsdale, Hank Azaria, Peter MacKenzie


TIME: Sundays at 9:30.

CHANNEL: Fox Channel 45 (WBFF)