'Good & Evil' tries for laughs by looking down on the disabled and disadvantaged


Remember when Joan Rivers got big laughs at the 1984 Republican Convention by putting down those who didn't rate an invitation to Nancy Reagan's luncheon?

If you like that kind of humor -- the kind that celebrates being on the inside and mocks the less fortunate -- you'll probably like "Good & Evil," which premieres at 10:30 tonight on WJZ-TV (Channel 13).

You also may be reminded of "Soap," the ABC sitcom in the late 1970s that spoofed soap operas. There's a good reason for that: Both shows were created by Susan Harris. There's a bad reason too: "Good & Evil" is a refried version of "Soap." And what was ground-breaking in 1978 is Geritol-tired now.

Teri Garr stars as Denise, the beautiful and "evil" sister who is scheming to take over her rich and wicked mother's cosmetic empire. The "good" sister, Genny, a microbiologist who tests vaccines on herself rather than risk hurting animals, is played by Margaret Whitton. They both want to marry the same man, Eric (Lane Davies).

Eric loves Genny, but is being blackmailed by Denise, who does not yet know that the husband she pushed off of Mount Everest and left for dead is about to reappear after being frozen in the Himalayas for four years.

Obviously, this is soap opera exaggerated into parody. Thirteen years ago, the overblown form itself was funny. But in 1991, Harris & Co. know they have to go elsewhere for laughs, and they do so by making fun of the disabled and disadvantaged, among others. Tonight, for instance, a blind character virtually destroys Genny's lab with his clumsiness before telling her, "I just had to see you."

Laughing at the less fortunate is becoming a Harris trademark. Another of her new shows, "Nurses," opens with jokes about lepers not being let into discos in a Central American country because they don't have feet and a patient lying in his feces.

Ron Powers, the TV critic for GQ, was the first to analyze the I'm-on-the-inside-and-you're-not humor that emerged in the '80s. He noted the dramatic reversal it represented in a nation whose humor -- from Mark Twain to Richard Pryor -- long held sympathy for the little guy against the fat cats. And Powers said the shift suggested something about us as a nation.

"Good & Evil" bears watching in that sense; ratings and audience response will be an indication of whether we have escaped the '80s and its selfish excesses or whether the decade still has a grip on our sensibilities.

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