`Frank's Place': leisurely pace

Frank's Place CBS, Monday, 8-8:30 p.m. Network preview airing of a new comedy series before its regular schedule. Starring Tim Reid. He's a professor from Massachusetts - very pleasant but a bit on the formal side - and suddenly he finds himself in charge of a homey New Orleans restaurant noted for Creole cooking and peopled by ``colorful'' characters.

Yes, this show's format does reach a bit, but its cast of black characters suggests all kinds of comedy potential and offers an appealing and sometimes refreshingly different series.

The pace is less eager to throw gags at you than most, less urgent in its drive to contrive comic predicaments, and not afraid of long pauses. Even the background music and sound effects are less routine.

The premi`ere sets the special Cajun atmosphere for the arrival of Frank Parrish, son of the establishment's late owner. This allows time for the show to trot out what it obviously feels is a daring and irresistible dramatis personae.

``Look, here's another one,'' it seems to say as viewers meet the exotic staff, such as Miss Marie, the ``waitress emeritus'' who's lived long enough to speak blunt truths without offending. Among others, there's also a card-playing minister, a good-ol'-boy lawyer, and other local figures.

Watching the Yankee interloper, black himself, interface with this assortment makes for some unpredictable exchanges, and it is a mark of the program's nice sense of humanity that the relatively straight Frank appears the oddball to the staff. It's fun to watch him being sucked into local folkways, including some inevitable brushes with ``spells,'' and the more real threat of a sinister restaurateur who wants to buy Frank's place.

By this time, of course, Frank has decided not to sell the place as he had planned (this is a series, after all). He thinks it's fairer to accept the staff's purchase offer - though not the high bid - and he has his eye on a local beauty who happens to be, in the show's faintly Gothic approach, the local embalmer.

It's a series well worth keeping an eye on.

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