Summertime ... and the tryouts are breezy

CBS Summer Playhouse:`Changing Patterns' and `Mickey and Nora' CBS, tonight, 8-9 p.m. Hosted by Tim Reid and Daphne Maxwell Reid. Though not unique, this looks like something out of the ordinary in the way of prime-time network fare - not a continuing sitcom but an ``anthology,'' a series of separate comedies and dramas. That's a refreshing prospect: new characters each week and a new story - or sometimes two of them in the 60-minute show - in self-contained scripts. And viewers are told how they can ``vote'' at the end of each program by phoning in their reactions (it's a toll call). Results are announced during the following week's show.

But can summertime commercial TV really deliver on the promise? Well, sort of. The individual shows are actually ``pilots,'' originally produced in the hope of becoming regular series. And from the opening gun in the first of these two 30-minute comedies - ``Changing Patterns'' - the sitcom feeling seizes the setting, the people, and the story line. Understandably enough, ``Patterns'' spends most of its creative energies setting up an open-ended format that allows for weekly variations on the story of two women - played by Valerie Perrine and Brenda Vaccaro - whose husbands have sold their tire business so their wives can start a dress-manufacturing venture.

Individually, the cast is skilled and funny as the women struggle for their first big business break - an order from a handsome young Saks buyer. Miss Vaccaro, especially, offers well-honed and sometimes desperately needed comedy readings. Her gutsy spirit helps fill the vacuum created by flat scenes that seldom manage the chemistry or the compelling relationships a sitcom needs.

``Mickey and Nora'' makes out a little better because it uses standard sitcom comedy as a springboard for something broader and more lunatic - the story of an ex-CIA agent desperately trying to shake his old image as a ``spy'' in Africa so he can get on with his life as a lawyer and newlywed. The production - including suggestive dialogue between the newlyweds - is not a bit less pedestrian than in other sitcoms. And it's suprising to find a show today out of tune enough to use gags about ``driving under the influence.'' Yet you get the feeling that instead of merely accepting a formula, the show is stretching it.

The result is farce, or a crude version of that classic form, with a neurotic ex-CIA boss who blows off people's front doors, and an espresso coffeemaker that can bug the men's room of the Soviets' mission to the United Nations.

Despite an often badly hoked-up plot and clumsy scenes, there is an honesty of attitude behind some of the exchanges and a feeling of freedom, as if the characters had slipped the sitcom limits and were struggling toward something else.

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