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NBC’s ‘Whoopi’ is in your face

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Whoopi Goldberg

Whoopi Goldberg

HOLLYWOOD — Well, at least nobody is going to call "Whoopi" the feel-good comedy of the year.

The new NBC sitcom, which premieres Tuesday at 7 p.m. on Ch. 5, casts Whoopi Goldberg as a confrontational — some would say unpleasant — woman named Mavis, who owns a small Manhattan hotel and doesn't much care what anybody thinks of her. How politically incorrect is she? Well, she smokes, drinks and says rude things with gusto.

Maybe it's not that big a leap from Mavis to Whoopi. Goldberg, puffing away on a cigarette in violation of California law, recently answered questions from TV critics gathered in a hotel ballroom. And she cared no more about any criticism she receives than she cares about criticism the show will no doubt receive.

"Here's the bottom line," she said. "People do still smoke. That's a reality. And people still do drink. And this character does."

She actually takes some delight in the controversy that Mavis' on-air smoking may bring, "which I think is extraordinary when you have an interracial couple in the show and the thing that people are freaking about is that I'm smoking. I love that, personally."

Mavis herself delights in saying just about anything that comes into her head. Mostly attacks on anything she doesn't agree with, whether it be the Bush administration or salesmen or her brother's white girlfriend who wants to be African-American. It's deliberately confrontational.

"Look, this show is about having a good time and doing some stuff that hasn't been done on television for a long time," Goldberg insisted. "And we're going to tackle as many things as we can and try to be funny and give it some thought. So even if people don't agree with what they're hearing, they'll at least have something to talk about. Kind of like Archie Bunker 2003."

But "All In the Family" didn't make jokes about terrorism in a post-9/11 world. And one of the regular characters on "Whoopi," handyman Nasim (Omid Djalili of "The Mummy"), is an Iranian who jokes about his ties to terrorism.

Side-splitting it's not.

"What you're going to get from my character, hopefully, and from all these other characters, is what people aren't saying out loud," Goldberg said. "We're hopefully giving voice to some liberals, some conservatives, some middle-of-the-road folks."

Not to mention those with decidedly skewed racial stereotypes dancing in their heads.

Which is not to say that Goldberg and the show's writers aren't entitled to their opinions.

"It's time now to just remind everybody that, whether we like it or not, in this country everyone is entitled to (their opinion), whether we want to believe what they say or not," Goldberg said. "And I think that's important."

Important, certainly. Funny and entertaining, well, not yet at any rate. Which is the lesson Goldberg and her team seemed to have missed when they were watching "All In the Family."

Those of us who loved Archie Bunker — despite his many flaws — aren't going to be quite as quick to accept Mavis as his successor as Goldberg would like to think.


E-MAIL: pierce@desnews.com