'Robot' borrows from '80s culture

The new cartoon "Whatever Happened to Robot Jones" (8:30 p.m., Cartoon Network) puts a mechanical spin on adolescent angst. Jones may think he's an average sixth-grader, but he's actually a 3-foot, 8-inch tall robot weighing 500 pounds with a 9,468 mega-volt memory. This puts him at a distinct disadvantage when the gym teacher orders him to join the rest of the boys in the shower after physical education class.

With his primitive mechanical voice and extremely logical mind, Jones often seems like the perfect dork. In tonight's second episode, our water-phobic hero turns down an invitation to a cool kid's pool party and strikes up a friendship with a vacuum cleaner. But Jones' steel-trap mind also makes him the perfect observer, recording all of the agonies of adolescence. As such, "Jones" may become a real hit with pre-teens.

"Jones" is also aimed at older viewers who might appreciate its many references to 1980s pop culture. Jones' voice, and perhaps his very existence, seems inspired by the song "Mechanical Man" by Devo. Jones develops a cyborg crush on a fellow sixth-grader whose name, Shannon Westerburg, is a tip of the hat to Paul Westerburg, leader of the Replacements, considered by many to be the best rock and roll band of the Reagan era.

The creators of "Jones" cite both "Schoolhouse Rock" and "Mad Magazine" as visual inspirations. The cartoon's purposefully crowded and messy appearance is a dramatic, and not necessarily welcome, departure for the Cartoon Network, known for such graphically clean and visually striking cartoons as "Dexter's Laboratory," "The Powerpuff Girls" and "Samurai Jack."

� Brian Williams hosts "Firehouse" (8 p.m., NBC) the first of five "Dateline" documentaries about fire companies across America. Shot with small, discrete video cameras, these films are narrated by the firemen themselves. The series begins with the Rescue 4 Unit in Queens, N.Y., and follows the firefighters through a tragic and remarkable year. The unit lost three men in a blaze on Father's Day 2001; participated in the events of Sept. 11 and reported to the crash of American Airlines Flight 587 just two months later.

� Companies that use offshore shell companies to evade U.S. tax laws may not be breaking the law, but according to Sen. Chuck Grassley they are both immoral and unpatriotic. The Iowa Republican appears on "Now With Bill Moyers" (9 p.m., PBS). Grassley and other senators have introduced legislation outlawing such tax loopholes. He believes the terror attacks of Sept. 11 may have given his efforts new momentum. "American corporations would never have done this in World War II," says Grassley.

Tonight's other highlights

� Scheduled on "48 Hours" (8 p.m., CBS): the trendy Hollywood diet championed by Dr. Atkins.

� Scheduled on "Dateline" (7 p.m., NBC): missing for five days, a teenager is discovered still alive, pinned inside her wrecked car.

� Tim Robbins and Ryan Phillippe star in the 2001 dot-com thriller "Antitrust" (7 p.m., Showtime).

� Chuck Norris stars as a one-man anti-terrorist force in the 2001 thriller "The President's Man: A Line in the Sand" (8 p.m., CBS). The late Robert Urich co-stars as the president.

� Janeane Garofalo, David Hyde Pierce and Molly Shannon star in the 2001 comedy "Wet Hot American Summer" (8:30 p.m., Starz), a silly parody of the cheap, badly made teen sex comedies of the early 1980s.

Cult choice

New York's singles scene turns ominous in the 1977 drama "Looking for Mr. Goodbar" (8 p.m., A&E;) starring Diane Keaton.

Series notes

� Doug Stanhope hosts back-to-back episodes of "Invasion of the Hidden Cameras" (7 p.m. and 7:30 p.m., Fox)

� Tom Bergeron hosts "America's Funniest Home Videos" (7 p.m., ABC)

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