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Fox's Saturday lineup: familiar and sometimes engaging fare

You'll recognize that network-series look the minute you see the three Fox Broadcasting shows airing this Saturday night - they're all cut from the same cloth. Yet they are eccentric and sometimes engaging entries in this tired genre, whose characters range from a wistfully romantic woman of 40, to a teen-ager haplessly caught up in spy plots, to a seagoing werewolf prone to ending his sentences with a howl. (A fourth series - ``Down and Out in Beverly hills'' - premi`eres the following Saturday). `Beans Baxter' - a teen spy

Fox says it's reaching for a younger viewership. To judge from the premi`ere episode of a show like ``The New Adventures of Beans Baxter'' (8-9 p.m.), that viewership is less interested in another routine action-adventure series than in a jaunty though diffused spoof of one. The often funny show builds crazy perspectives into the tale of Beans, a touchingly sincere teen-ager who is bright, slightly passive, semi-nerdish, and just right as an intelligent victim of comic circumstances. The plot puts him in the cross fire between a vaguely Arabic terrorist group and the Network, a government courier service whose covert missions should ring a timely bell during the Iran-contra furor.

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But while the latter is deadly serious business, the ``Beans'' plot takes almost nothing seriously. The media at large is parodied throughout - sometimes weakly but often with ridiculously humorous effect. The series' opening format uses a camera-eye image that mocks the familiar beginning of the James Bond films. And Moneypenny - the secretary with whom Bond carried on a lighthearted pseudo-romance - is here an old lady who offers cookies to an agent reporting in.

The agent is Beans's father, whose kidnapping is part of the web leading to Beans's involvement. When Beans thinks his dad's been killed, it leads to some of the premi`ere's rare moments of strong and credible human feeling. But the show has another aim - to put comic reminders of film and TV moments in a modern setting.

`Karen's Song' - September-May romance

What the warmly humorous ``Karen's Song'' (9:30-10 p.m.) has going for it is not so much the series format - an older woman's relationship with a much younger man - as Patty Duke's performance in the title role. Karen has a new job and, although divorced, never felt better. If you think you recognize the TV type - single businesswoman crackling with self-confidence - don't judge until you've had a chance to see how Miss Duke avoids that dangerously clich'ed media characterization. Her Karen is not so cocksure - she's a little tentative about herself and life, and conveys the fact as only a highly skilled actress could.

Steve, the man Karen seems to be falling for, runs a catering business, reads a little Japanese, and is so mellowed and self-possessed that the older-younger equation is not a harsh one. Karen and her friend may talk about the age difference - as if the show were trying hard to establish that format. But - in the premi`ere at least - we aren't made to feel the difference. Lainie Kazan, as a wise-cracking friend, is a forceful counterbalance to the frequently fearful Karen.

`Werewolf' - outlandish, chilling

But one show does not a series make, and we'll have to see how ``Beans'' and ``Karen'' fare when revisited week after week. Both served largely to introduce the setting. The same is true of ``Werewolf'' (9-9:30 p.m.) - the most outlandish departure of the three new shows - which had its sometimes chillingly effective two-hour premi`ere last Saturday. In the weeks ahead its open-ended ``chase'' plot will call on a young yuppie named Eric to track down the head of the werewolf bloodline to save himself. The sometimes gripping sequences offer lots of darkened scenes with half-lighted faces, plenty of werewolf lore, and their own group of media allusions.

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During last Saturday's premi`ere, movie buffs already recognized the same ``Tie me up'' pleas that Lon Chaney Jr. once uttered in the days of ``The Wolf Man,'' and they also remembered the werewolf transformation scene. These are offered with a very straight face - unlike the more recent film ``Teen Wolf,'' where the sinister element was subordinated to high-school social problems. This show takes its lycanthropy seriously - with strangely effective ``Miami Vice''-like music in the backgroud.

Werewolves themselves, as well as their prey, are seen as victims of a dark fate. Yet Chuck Connors - a kind of black humorist of the horror set - seems to be getting a fatalistic laugh out of the whole thing.

I don't think you'll be chuckling much during this eerie show, but you may find a few unintended laughs lurking in the somber plot line.

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