How Low Will It Go? 'Public Morals' Pushes the Envelope on Trash TV

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Byline: Ted Cox TV/Radio Columnist

"Public Morals," Steven Bochco's new cop-show sitcom, debuts at 8:30 p.m. today on CBS' WBBM Channel 2, and it immediately establishes a new lowest common denominator on network TV.

Wait, let me amend that. "Public Morals" establishes a new low, but I don't know if anybody will find anything in common with the moment when one cop emerges from the bathroom and says, "Hey, does anybody have a plunger, or do I have to use my hands again?"

If there is a human intersection point for a joke like that, it's deeply imbedded in what Freud called the anal stage of infant development.

"Public Morals" stoops so low, even "Married ... With Children" fans are likely to be offended, and devotees of NBC's time-slot competitor "Men Behaving Badly" are apt to feel downright superior.

Let me put it this way: "Cop Rock" is no longer the lamest, most misguided, least intelligent thing Bochco has ever done.

"Public Morals" first raised a stink - pun definitely intended - when its pilot episode was released to TV critics and CBS affiliates this summer. That show included the glib use of a tainted nursery-rhyme word for "kitty," with no pun intended whatsoever.

Network affiliates in the heartland said, "No way," so Bochco got what he wanted from his gambit - a little provocative publicity boost before the show's launch.

Now the pilot has been scrapped, the offending word has been stricken and "Public Morals" debuts with an entirely new episode. But if Bochco and executive producer Jay Tarses are no longer pushing the envelope of what's allowed, they're stuffing that envelope with every cruddy turn of phrase network censors will let pass.

In tonight's episode alone, there are three unprintable references to someone smooching the commanding officer's behind, another taking the name of Chicago's greatest middle linebacker in vain and, as if that weren't enough, a similar usage suggesting fellatio.

And then there's this exchange:

Erudite black detective: "My problem is with my equipment. …