Hidden Hills

Stephen Tropiano

Even more problematic is the moment when it's time for the episode's moral message, delivered with the subtlety of a bumper sticker.

Hidden Hills

Airtime: Tuesdays, 9:30pm EST
Cast: Justin Louis, Paula Marshall, Dondre T. Whitfield, Tamara Taylor, Kristin Bauer
Display Artist: Susanne Daniels, Peter Segal, Ric Swartzlander
Network: NBC
Creator: Ric Swartzlander

Welcome to Hidden Hills (population 12,000), a community in western Los Angeles and setting for NBC's new situation comedy about marriage, sex, and other hazards of suburban living. The series focuses on two 30-something couples, Doug Barber (Justin Louis), who doubles as the show's narrator, his wife Janine (Paula Marshall), and their close friends and neighbors, Zack and Sarah Timmerman (Dondre T. Whitfield and Tamara Taylor). In between going to work and chauffeuring the kids back and forth from school, both couples are trying to keep the passion fires burning. Zack and Sarah have no problem finding time alone. Doug is not so lucky: he's feeling neglected by Janine, who is either on the telephone or too tired to fool around.

The network airwaves are currently cluttered with domestic sitcoms (The World According to Jim, My Wife and Kids, 8 Simple Rules for Dating My Teenage Daughter, etc.), so Hidden Hills tries to put a new spin on the genre by shifting the focus from the kids and the challenges of child-rearing to something a little spicier: Mommy and Daddy's sex life (or, in the case of the Barbers, the lack of one). And, in an obvious attempt to capitalize on the popularity of adult-oriented cable comedies like The Mind of the Married Man, which this show closely resembles, Hills tries to be edgy and provocative by tackling the subject of sex from a male point of view.

But don't expect any of the frank sex talk, nudity, or quality writing that's become the trademark of HBO and Showtime's original series like Sex and the City or Married Man. After all, this is NBC. So while creators Peter Segal and Ric Swartzlander may think they're pushing the network TV envelope, what they've penned is another uninspired, sophomoric comedy that has little to offer viewers in the way of laughs, let alone insights into male-female relationships.

The series pilot opens with Doug sitting in front of the television watching a news report about a problem plaguing many couples with children: lack of interest in sex. It's been over five weeks since Doug and Janine have been intimate. As our Doug explains, "Balancing family and career is tough enough, but add a second career and any chance of romance is pretty much screwed." His life becomes even more complicated when he meets his new assistant coach, Belinda Slypich (Kristin Bauer), who, according to the buzz around town, has her own porn website. "Porn Mom" sends a horny Doug's imagination into overdrive. He begins to have sexual fantasies (but only the PG-13 kind) about Belinda, whom he imagines squeezing a wet sponge over her tightly fitted blouse and sitting in a chair while water rains down on her à la Flashdance.

Doug admits his fantasies are not exactly original. No argument here. Like their male characters, series creators Segal and Swartzlander, are clearly trapped in a perpetual state of adolescence. What age group does this series taregt? The comedic situations are unoriginal (i.e., Doug and his pals get caught ogling Porn Mom's website), and the visual gags and physical humor are better suited for some high school teen comedy than a so-called adult primetime sitcom (Doug flings dog poop into the neighbor's yard, Doug gets hit in the balls by a softball).

Even more problematic is the moment when it's time for the episode's moral message, delivered with the subtlety of a bumper sticker. Though the men have acted like total buffoons, their wives are the recipients of this week's big lesson. When a nameless mom overhears Janine, Sarah, and a third woman express their disapproval of Belinda and her porn site, she chastises them for judging Porn Mom without really "knowing" her. Janine then realizes that it's not right to "judge a book by its cover" (better write that one down, folks), so she allows Porn Mom to drive their kids home from the game.

Perhaps as a way of compensating for their sheer lack of originality, Segal and Swartzlander keep the one-camera comedy (as opposed to a three-camera in-studio series like Will & Grace and Frasier) moving. There's lots of fast camerawork and cutting, as well as Doug's ongoing narration. But the quick pace only provides the writers with more screen time to fill with more bad jokes, which add up to one dull half-hour. If ever a show needed a laugh track, it's this one.

As for the cast, they are all doing the best the can with the material, though the talented Marshall, a veteran of several failed series (Snoops, The Steven Weber Show), appears, like her character, somewhat distracted -- like she really isn't listening to what co-star Louis is saying. Perhaps she knows the inevitable fate this turkey is bound to suffer and is contemplating her next move. My only hope is that a "For Sale" sign goes up quick and she gets out Hidden Hills as soon as possible.

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