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HBO turns Sundays over to men

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© St. Petersburg Times,
published September 11, 2001

There's a minor gender revolution coming to HBO on Sunday evenings. And it might tick off a few fans.

For a while now, HBO's signature Sunday evening lineup has been filled with channel-defining shows: The Sopranos, Sex and the City and Six Feet Under. Last week, the Tom Hanks/Steven Spielberg-produced blood-and-guts World War II drama Band of Brothers made a splashy, two-hour debut there at 9 p.m.

But what will follow Brothers at 10 may be the shows that get viewers in a lather: Mike Binder's The Mind of the Married Man and the second season of Seinfeld creator Larry David's improvised sitcom, Curb Your Enthusiasm -- two male-oriented comedies slated to air for the next 10 weeks behind Band of Brothers after special previews tonight.

Mind is an HBO-bold attempt to answer an age-old question: What do married guys talk -- and think -- about when their wives aren't around?

According to Mind: Sex. Sex. Guilt over sex. And more sex.

Much as it has struggled to avoid the comparison, Mind unfolds as a male Sex and the City -- centered on three hip, yuppie journalists who deconstruct the various pressures and temptations that come with being married and wealthy while working for a Chicago newspaper (a thinly veiled Chicago Tribune).

"You know, a friend of mine said, kiddingly . . ."You're giving away secrets to the enemy,' " said Binder, a comic who created the show and writes many of its episodes. "(But) I really feel . . . anything that I got going on or I'm thinking, you guys are, too."

Perhaps. But Binder's columnist Micky Barnes isn't all that sympathetic. Instead, he's boorish enough to hire an assistant because he's attracted to her, but sensitive enough to get guilt-ridden about it and try to fire her, even though it's all really his problem (as his boss, played by invaluable character actor M. Emmet Walsh, wisely points out).

Barnes is a whiny, televised shadow of Woody Allen, driven by selfish, sexual impulses he can barely control but feels compelled to whine about endlessly.

Still, the show's biggest problem isn't the characters -- which include Barnes' pal Jake Berman, a entertainment columnist and serial adulterer who hires a call girl to visit his office regularly. Another pal, Doug Nelson, is almost pathologically devoted to his wife.

Nor is it the vulgarity, which includes a bar scene where co-star Bobby Slayton bellows that "no matter how good looking a woman is, there's always a guy who is tired of (having sex with) her."

What's most troubling is a vague undercurrent of antiwoman anger that simmers beneath the surface. Except Nelson (derided mostly as a well-meaning softie) and Barnes, the married men speak of women with a brutal intensity that reveals a little too much about how they see the females in their lives.

David's mostly improvised Curb Your Enthusiasm is less damaging, featuring the acerbic, layabout writer as he lounges through a Hollywood life -- bungling a possible sitcom project with former Seinfeld pal Jason Alexander because they can't agree where to hold the meetings and angering his wife's friend (The Downer Channel's Wanda Sykes) by commenting on her rear end.

Early episodes are funnier than the vaguely annoying tone set last season, as David continues living off his Seinfeld riches and stumbling into one faux pas after another. Still, at a time when unemployment has hit a four-year high, who wants to see a guy with no job shopping for a million-dollar house?

* * *

AT A GLANCE: The Mind of the Married Man debuts in a special preview at 10 tonight on HBO. It airs at 10 p.m. Sundays beginning Sunday. Grade: C. Curb Your Enthusiasm previews at 10:30 tonight. It airs at 10:30 p.m. Sundays starting Sunday. Grade: C+.

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