TELEVISION Cybill / Roseanne (C4) Cybill Shepherd is back as a woman in her forties with a truculent teenage daughter and an ex or two. But is she a match for Roseanne? By Jasper Rees

Click to follow
The Independent Culture
In the slipstream of Roseanne and Ellen comes Cybill, another US sitcom that unabashedly advertises the female star at the wheel of the vehicle. There's an odd opposition going on here. Britcom titles are so much zippier: it's the scripts that routinely underestimate an audience's intelligence. American sitcoms, a high percentage of which are sassy and self-believing, have reductive titles that work like brand names. Imagine Absolutely Fabulous as Jennifer, or The Vicar of Dibley as Dawn. We just wouldn't stand for it (remember Terry and June?) In the States, though, Roseanne by any other name would not smell as sweet.

The letters of Cybill's surname have been half-heartedly shuffled to change Shepherd into Sheridan, but an actress who made her name in The Last Picture Show is now cashing in on it. Cybill is also an actress whose last picture is an ancient folk memory. Pre-signature tune, we meet her playing a vampire's victim in a slice of dire TV schlock. Cast as a corpse, she keeps corpsing. Put it down to pre-mortal tension.

The joke underpinning Cybill is the treachery of middle age. Salient among the signs of encroaching cronehood are her daughter's announcement of a forthcoming grandchild, her date's inability to get it up, and her ex's attachment to an airhead. Shepherd has said that her age, over 40 and counting, is the best time to be a woman, but then the rotting process seems to decelerate for Hollywood's misleading ladies. This is the West Coast, where vanity hires the surgeon's knife to defy gravity.

Cybill the character (I plead ignorance concerning the actress) hasn't had a boob job, while her richer sidekick who can afford one is even more self-pitying. Maryann, aspically played by Christine Baranski, is perhaps the more rounded comic creation, and gets the best lines: "If I had a nickel for every time my ex-husband couldn't perform..." she says. "Well, actually, I do."

The sitcom that doesn't get off to a slow start is a generic freak. Tuning in for the first time, the viewer might have felt like the impotent date Cybill introduced to a gathering of husbands and daughters, but with some characters, you got along right away. We met teenage troublemaker Zoey at the piano, teasing some overblown nocturne from the ivories. When her mother came in, she reverted to her role of sullen numbskull and plinked out a charmless infantile ditty. Before she'd said a line, you had her number.

Lecy Goranson, who took a sabbatical from Roseanne to attend college, re-entered as Becky after three years away. They got a laugh out of it, as you'd expect of a show where reality and fiction are so smugly snug. In series eight, Roseanne is carrying a new character in her womb, but its arrival would be so much more provoking if either Darlene or Becky could lay on the grandchild, like the one upsetting Cybill.

Comments