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'Cupid' could win viewers' hearts TV: Beneath wispy premise, comedy is smart and surprisingly thoughtful on gender relations.


Jeremy Piven ("Ellen") plays a guy in modern-day Chicago who claims to be Cupid, god of love. He says he got temporarily bounced from Olympus and needs to put 100 couples together in the Windy City before he can get back in.

Paula Marshall ("Spin City") plays the lady shrink who is called in to check him out. She thinks he's a nutcase, but she's kind of attracted to him -- you know, the way Maddie was attracted to the nutcase named David on "Moonlighting."

Give ABC credit: this is not your standard sitcom premise. And give executive producer Scott Winant ("thirtysomething") major credit, too, for quickly overcoming the implausiblity of the premise and managing to pique interest in this bickering pair.

"Cupid" is not a stupid show. In fact, for all its surface sense of fun, it explores gender relations in a fairly thoughtful way.

As a shrink who writes books and leads therapy groups, she's all blah-blah-blah psychobabble about sex, talking it into clumps of soggy shredded wheat in a bowl of cold milk.

He, on the other hand, is a disciple of the Mary Chapin-Carpenter school of "Shut Up and Kiss Me."

Mind vs. body. The rational vs. the irrational. Apollo going head to head with Dionysus.

They bicker over their relationship and they fight over the couples in her encounter group for whom he tries to play mathchmaker when he isn't pairing folks up at the nightclub where he tends bar.

Armed with her shrink degree and the ability to send him back into custody as a nutcase, she has most of the power. But she's been blocked in writing a book about relationships, and he might just be the perfect case study to get her unblocked in a number of ways.

"Cupid" is a promising effort by ABC to bring more young adults in their twenties and thirties to the network. The question is whether they will be home on Saturday night watching a show about relationships or will be out there themselves in singles bars like the one that employs Cupid trying to really make it happen. 1/2

Quick takes

Quick-hit guide to new series premiering tonight:

Must-see. Has promise. Worth a look. Forget about it.

"Fantasy Island" 1/2 (9 to 10 p.m. WMAR, Channel 2). This is not as much a re-make as it is a re-invention of the goopy 1970s series. Don't worry, you won't be hearing Herve Villachaize yelling, "Boss, boss, de boat." Nor must we suffer the wooden Ricardo Montalban. Malcolm McDowell plays Roarke all black suits and shadowy motives. I like this "Fantasy Island" a lot better than the original, though not enough to make it appointment television by a long shot.

"Martial Law" 1/2 (9 to 10 p.m. WJZ, Channel 13). What happens when you pair a portly Hong Kong kung-fu kick boxer (Sammo Hung) with a couple of Los Angeles city cops? You get a series that mocks every statement CBS Entertainment Les Moonves ever made about how his network wants to reduce violence. It is the perfect companion, though, for "Walker, Texas Ranger," the most violent show on network TV. By the way, this is what they cancelled "Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman" for.

TV's new season

What: "Cupid"

When: 10 to 11 p.m. tomorrow

Where: WMAR (Channel 2)

Pub Date: 9/26/98

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