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All in the new family

Wacky relatives abound in new fall TV lineup
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Were this season’s new sitcoms all done by the same writer? Wacky families abound. In “All About the Andersons,” a grown man and his son must move back with his parents. In “Two and a Half Men,” a man and his son must move in with his brother. In “Hope and Faith,” a soap-opera actress must move in with her sister. In “Run of the House,” a teen must move in with her older siblings. Trying to work through some empty-nest issues, Hollywood?

EVEN THE TITLES are similar: We’ve got “All of Us” and “All About the Andersons”; “Happy Family,” “Like Family,” and “It’s All Relative.”

Fans of Britcom “Coupling” are wondering if the American version will dumb down the humor, and TV viewers in general are wondering if “The Mullets” is as dumb as its name.

Fall brings the answers. Let’s hope it brings laughs.


The not-quite-empty nest figures in “All About the Andersons” (WB, Fridays, 9:30 p.m. ET) a new comedy starring Anthony Anderson, the bumbling comic foil of the hit film “Barbershop.” Anderson stars as Anthony, a struggling New York actor and single father forced, due to a change in domestic circumstances (a wife with second thoughts about being one), to move back in with his parents in L.A., a location that conveniently enough may help him find work in the craft he loves.

It’s good parent-bad parent at home: Mother Flo, played by Roz Ryan (“Amen”) is ever supportive, but father Joe, played by the always reliable John Amos (“Good Times,” stints on “The West Wing”) isn’t receptive to this kind of homecoming. “That 250-pound boomerang is back for good,” Joe says. The ties that bind are chafing as it is, but it all gets more complicated. Turns out there’s a doctor in the house, and he’s renting Anthony’s old room. Second-year resident George Harvey (Paul Bartholomew) is the lodger Anthony lodges a complaint about, to no avail. Damani Roberts plays Anthony’s 8-year-old son, Tuga, with warmth, intelligence and an indelible presence.

There’s real potential here for exploring African American generational issues, aspirations and what happens when dreams deferred die on the vine. But it’s not so serious that Anderson’s raucous physical brand of comedy can’t lighten things up. —Michael E. Ross


L.A. talk-show host Robert James is ready to sign his own emancipation proclamation, finalizing a divorce process that’ll end “a year and a half of blood, sweat and checking under my car.” He’s in the process of getting his personal life back on track with his son, Robert Jr., and Tia, the woman soon to be his wife.

But there are complications: His ex-wife, Neesee, has issues with her soon-to-be-’ex’ status … and he won’t sign the papers. It’s a delicate situation that forms the crux of “All of Us,” (UPN, Tuesdays, 8:30 p.m. ET) a new comedy executive-produced by Will Smith and Jada Pinkett Smith, who based the show on their own experiences being not quite married with children.

Duane Martin as Robert (“Deliver Us From Eva,” “Any Given Sunday”), Elise Neal as Tia (“Rosewood,” “How to Be a Player”) and LisaRaye as Neesee (“The Players’ Club”) are the problematic triangle. As Robert Jr., newcomer Khamani Griffin is winning as the son caught in the middle. All in all, the show finds some humor in the pain of divorce, laughter in the tricky business of balancing cartoons, custody and connubial bliss. —M.E.R.


Whatever happened to Jason Bateman? After a lengthy television absence, he returns to the small screen as the lead character in Fox’s new comedy “Arrested Development” (Sundays, 9:30 p.m. ET).

Jason plays Michael, a dutiful middle son who works slavishly for his crooked developer father George (Jeffrey Tambor). While his free-spending mother Lucille (Jessica Walters) doles out corporate funds to his ne’er-do-well siblings — “Gob,” (Will Arnett) an illusionist, Lindsay (former Ally MacBeal star Portia di Rossi), a cause-of-the-month fundraiser and Buster (Tony Hale), a professional graduate student — Michael works away, trying to achieve a coveted partnership and to set a good example for his son George Michael (Michael Cera).

The SEC spoils everyone’s hopes as George is arrested for shady accounting practices and Michael starts planning to leave California for Arizona to start over. But his family convinces him that he needs to take over the family business and save the day.

“Arrested Development” is narrated by Ron Howard, who produces the show along with Brian Grazer. The team, which produced “A Beautiful Mind” and “Parenthood,” brings a quirky, quick-witted comedy to a network that is fast becoming known for its offbeat and sharp comedies. It looks to be an engaging show with actual laugh-out loud moments. —Denise Hazlick

For the last 10 years, the Peacock Network has had plenty of “Friends” in its plumage; that show’s been a consistent ratings winner. But now with that franchise about to sail off into the residual sunset, NBC’s desperately seeking a saucy, sassy replacement.

“Coupling” (NBC, Thursdays, 9:30 p.m. ET) may fill the bill. It has the advantage of name recognition, sort of; the new show (sandwiched between proven hits “Will & Grace” and “ER”) is a spinoff of the inventive, at-times brilliant BBC series. But something’s often lost in translation when shows jump the Atlantic.

True, the new series appropriates the same formula as the Brit rendition: Three men and three women look for love in the city (Chicago stands in for London) — mostly among themselves. Patrick, Steve and Jeff grapple with life, relationships and sex, as do Sally, Jane and Susan, their mates or erstwhile partners — our Windy City sextet earnestly exploring the contours of the Modern Relationship. “You know when you go to a club, you get your hand stamped, so if you leave you can come back in?” one character asks. “It’s like that in a relationship ... you have full in and out privileges!”

Will that kind of cheeky dialogue play well in a more conservative America? Will “Coupling” reveal the sometimes nervy imagination of its UK counterpart? Can this show break from the safe, formulaic approach that’s done in so many promising shows? Perhaps ... perhaps ... perhaps. —M.E.R.


While the youthquake at UPN continues, the upstart network is in some ways starting from scratch; without its gold-plated “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” franchise, UPN has gone back to its strong suit: urban comedies. “Eve” (Mondays, 8:30 p.m. ET) showcases the Ruff Ryder star and actress (“Barbershop”) as Shelly Williams, a Miami fashion designer looking for the right fit in a relationship. There’s the obligatory small circle of friends similarly navigating their relationships through the waters of modern life.

We know the outline of this one: like the leads in shows from “Suddenly Susan” to “Sex and the City,” Shelly’s searching for Mr. Right, hoping to add that ball to the others she’s been juggling — life and career — for way too long. The departure here is the African American focus on the idea of Having It All (a response, perhaps, to the call for more race-neutral prime-time casting). Former Doritos pitchwoman Ali Landry (“Spy TV”) is Rita, her business partner; and Natalie Desselle (“For Your Love”) is Janie, the requisite lifelong friend. And Jason George (“Barbershop”) stars as J.T. Hunter, the bachelor who may, or may not, be Shelly’s missing piece.

When a formula works, it’s harder to see the evidence of a formula. Maybe, despite its by-the-numbers ancestry, “Eve” can duck the downfall of many failed fashions, when a provocative design leaves much to be desired in the finished product. —M.E.R.


“What the hell happened?” asks Peter Brennan, a successful, happily married dentist in the suburbs of Philadelphia, trying to understand when his nuclear family went off like a nuclear bomb. “Happy Family” (NBC, Tuesdays, 8:30 p.m. ET), the latest upscale dysfunctional-family series, stars John Larroquette, the reliable Emmy-winning comedian whose smarmy charm made “Night Court” such a guilty TV pleasure in the late ’80s. Larroquette co-stars with fellow Emmy winner Christine Baranski (reporter Mary Sunshine in the film “Chicago”), who appears as his wife Annie.

The Brennans are proud parents on the verge of occupying an empty nest. Or so they think. Turns out their younger son, Tim (hardly the brightest bulb in the chandelier) isn’t graduating from junior college after all. Older son Todd, seemingly on the right track with a fiancee and a solid future, is having an affair. And presumably level-headed daughter Sarah has her own problems with a grip on reality.

At this writing, the supporting cast is in flux, but the show’s basic structure holds up. “Happy Family” should be a sturdy lead-in to “Frasier,” a great vehicle for Larroquette’s return to prime time, and a timely comic glimpse of what happens when the kids get out of the house but never seem to leave. —M.E.R.


On “Hope & Faith” (ABC, Fridays, 9 p.m. ET) Hope is the sensible, control-freak mother of three. Faith is her irresponsible ex-soap star sister. Sibling rivalry has never been so wacky — or so clichéd.

Faith Ford, who found small-screen fame as Corky Sherwood-Forest on “Murphy Brown”, returns to television as Hope, a harried stay-at-home mom who is trying to get along with her teenage daughter, keep her father’s cholesterol in check and fulfill the amorous needs of her husband.

Throwing even more chaos into Hope’s life is her sister Faith, played by soap star/talk show diva Kelly Ripa. Faith is trying to adjust to life outside the soap after her evil twin kills her off in a murder-suicide on “The Sacred and the Sinful.” And, like so many deposed actresses do, she takes refuge in her sister’s house, where she becomes the instant idol and ally of her teenage niece, much to Hope’s chagrin.

Ripa and Ford are both personable and perky — exactly what ABC was looking for, and audiences may be drawn to that. But the characters are locked into the good sister-bad sister stereotypes. And even in sitcom land, it stretches the realm of believability that the ordered, controlling Hope would invite her self-absorbed sister to live in her already crowded house.

The pairing of Ripa and Ford likely will pull in viewers. But it’s unclear if they’ll have a reason to stay —D.H.


Now that gays and lesbians have found acceptance in the mainstream television world, the networks will start rolling out new shows that feature gays as prominent characters. “It’s All Relative” (Wednesdays, 8:30 ET) is ABC’s new offering.

Liz is a well-to-do Harvard medical student who was raised by her dad, and her dad. Dad and Dad only want the best for Liz. Bobby is her Irish-Catholic Boston bartender fiancé. Bobby is not what Dad and Dad had in mind for their little girl. But then Liz’s parents aren’t exactly what Bobby’s blue-collar folks had in mind for in-laws.

The show, produced by Craig Zadan and Neil Meron, who produced Oscar-winner “Chicago,” never met a tired cliché it didn’t like. The gay parents are rich, fastidious and unable to comprehend the attitudes and habits of the blue-collar straights. The straight parents are gruff, uncouth and well-versed in terms like “fag.” There is no blurring of the lines or shades of gray, which makes it very hard to believe that the children of such parents would become involved with each other in the first place.

The dialogue is telegraphed, and the weak script leaves the actors hanging in the middle of a mediocre production of “Romeo and Juliet.” —D.H.


Let’s consider the opposite of the empty-nest experience. What happens when one family opens its doors to another family on hard times? The crowded house figures prominently in “Like Family” (WB, Fridays, 8:30 p.m. ET) the new comedy returning Holly Robinson Peete to the WB fold.

Peete, who starred in “For Your Love” on the Frog Network, is Tanya, happily married to Ed (Kevin Michael Richardson) and raising their two children. Family friend Maddie (Amy Yasbeck) needs some help in raising her 16-year-old son, Keith. Seems the kid can use some traditional family structure in his life - something this suddenly two-family household hasn’t got much of.

The potential for comic misunderstanding increases when the racial equation is introduced; with one black family and one white family … well, with the WB’s steadfast attention to a younger TV-viewing demographic, there’s no telling where this little experiment in multi-ethnic living could go. —M.E.R.


Luis Guzman: Trust me, you’ve seen him forever — gruff, streetwise, intense, Hispanic — on screens big and small, as the archetypal Latino ethnic in police shows and movies from “Hill Street Blues” to “Boogie Nights” to “Traffic.” Now, Guzman gets his own show, “Luis” (Fox, Fridays, 8:30 p.m. ET) the second Fox fall offering seeking to capitalize on a growing Latino demographic.

Guzman plays a Puerto Rican small businessman and landlord who owns a building in Spanish Harlem, a man juggling those roles with that of father and longsuffering ex-husband. Implicit in his status as one of New Yawk’s gentry is an irony worth developing: the Latino who finds his own rincón of the American Dream — unlike other less affluent people in the building he owns. The cast is a multiculti lineup Norman Lear would love: a Dominican ex-wife, an African American street hustler, a white boyfriend for Luis’ daughter, an ornery elderly Irish tenant, a Chinese deliveryman who speaks (mangles, more precisely) several languages in a sentence.

The call for ethnic tolerance has flashes of brilliance — when one character complains about a customer: “This is America, he’s gotta learn English”; Luis retorts that “this is America, you’ve gotta learn Spanish!” But they’re only flashes; other parts of the pilot suggest a willingness to indulge in ethnic caricature. “Luis” takes its cues from the same comedic template that’s yielded everything from “The Honeymooners” to “The Hughleys.” We’ll see how long Fox can keep the accent in its lineup without resorting to the cheap laughs of stereotype. —M.E.R.


“The simple life” is a relative term in a complex world. In “A Minute With Stan Hooper” (Fox, Wednesdays, 8:30 p.m. ET), a popular Andy Rooneyesque TV newsmagazine commentator, discovers that for himself when he abandons the canyons of New York City for the friendly real-life confines of Waterford Falls, Wisc. The irrepressible Norm Macdonald (late of “Saturday Night Live” and “The Norm Show”) is back on the small screen as Hooper. Penelope Ann Miller (most recently Donna Hanover in “Rudy: The Rudy Giuliani Story”) stars as his wife, Molly.

This show flaunts its fish-out-of-water lineage; like its ancestors “Newhart” and “Green Acres,” “Hooper” shows one man’s ever-bewildered attempt to live a more pastoral life frustrated by the complications of modern times. The eccentrics crowding this cast of characters include Gary, the flinty butler who comes with the house the Hoopers rent; Mr. Hawkins, the town’s cheese mogul (played by sitcom veteran Fred Willard); and the Petersens, the two brothers (or are they?) who run the local diner. Lactose-intolerant in the land of cheese, newsman Hooper struggles to cope with a world beyond his ken. Macdonald — drummed out of “SNL,” and not yet able to come up with his own signature hit — can probably relate to being that kind of a misfit. “Stan Hooper” is his latest attempt to break from the pack. Stay tuned. —M.E.R.


Say you were going to create a show called “The Mullets” (UPN, Tuesday, 9:30 p.m. ET). You’d have mullets, of course, and mentions of wrestling, Jerry Springer, the San Fernando Valley, convenience stores, and “Girls Gone Wild.” Every one of those items makes an appearance in “The Mullets,” which is the story of two hockey-haired brothers, Dwayne and Denny Mullet (Michael Weaver and David Hornsby). Loni Anderson bounces her way through her role as Dwayne and Denny’s mom, and their stuffed-shirt stepfather is John O’Hurley, who seems to be still playing J. Peterman from “Seinfeld.”

Weren’t jokes about mullets already tired in the ’90s? The show is written by Bill Oakley and Josh Weinstein of “The Simpsons,” so if anyone can feed humor into this show, they can. The Mullet brothers are strangely affable in a sort of “Dumb and Dumber” way, although the premise seems as if it was shouted out by an audience member at an improv comedy night. “The Mullets” is better than its title suggests, but it’s still likely to be quickly cancelled and end up alongside “Manimal” as one of the worst-but-most-descriptive TV show titles ever. —Gael Fashingbauer Cooper


Fox’s second import could be a breakout hit. Cheech Marin (done with his sidekick duties opposite Don Johnson in CBS’s “Nash Bridges”) returns to the small screen in “The Ortegas,” (Fox, Sundays, 8:30 p.m. ET) a spinoff of a BBC series (“The Kumars at No. 42”) tweaked for U.S. audiences.

In the original series, the East Indian parents of a thirtysomething son generously build him a TV studio in the backyard of their home in Wembley, England. The studio is the site from where he hosts a talk show with real-life celebrity guests.

Leave it to Fox to Americanize the experience: the East Indian family becomes a clan of Mexican immigrants, and Los Angeles stands in for England.

Still, the result has the potential to be a hit; with its in-your-face blend of comedy and reality, casting that breaks from the mainstream mold, and the intriguing possibility of anyone showing up as a guest, “The Ortegas” could be this year’s “Larry Sanders Show.” The best new talk show on TV just may be a daffy, whip-smart, up-to-the-minute parody of every talk show ever made.——M.E.R.


The worst thing you can say about “Rock Me Baby,” (UPN, Tuesdays, 9 p.m. ET) is that it’s terminally mediocre. Dan Cortese plays Jimmy, a radio morning man whose wife Beth (Bianca Kajlich) recently had a baby. Jimmy has trouble adjusting to his new life, particularly the newfound lack of sex. His morning show partner Carl (Carl Anthony Payne) and the station manager Joe Boyle (Joey Slotnick) both think Jimmy has lost his edge.

The comedy here is painted in very broad strokes: jokes about lack of sex, jokes about the size of Beth’s breasts. None of it is mean-spirited and Beth is a likeable character who also seems to miss the person she left behind. But none of it is all that funny either. It’s hard to imagine listening to Jimmy and Carl’s morning show — you get the sense that the creators got this idea from listening to Howard Stern talk about his former wife on the radio, but Jimmy and Carl don’t have Stern’s shock value. Ultimately, despite some pleasant performances by Kajlich and Slotnick, there’s nothing very surprising or interesting about “Rock Me Baby” — no joke that you can’t see coming, no situation that doesn’t feel familiar. —Paige Newman


If “Run of the House” (WB, Thursdays, 9:30 p.m. ET) makes it through its entire run, that will be the most surprising and interesting thing about it. This unfunny half-hour comedy series focuses on 15-year old Brooke Franklin (Margo Harshman), whose parents have made a temporary move to Arizona for her father’s health. Brooke is left in the care of brothers Kurt (Joe Lawrence), a failed minor league baseball player, Chris (Kyle Howard), a recent law school dropout, and sister Sally (Sasha Barrese), a bombshell who’s recently broken up with her boyfriend.

This is one of those sitcoms where you can sense a lot of very special episodes coming. Breaking those key rules of “Seinfeld,” there will be hugging and learning on this show. And there will also be a lot of very clunky jokes, most of them man-handled by Kyle Howard. Joe (still “Joey” at heart) Lawrence tragically seems to have brought the cloying feel of “Blossom” with him to this series. Sasha Barrese is a beautiful actress whose character seems created in the tradition of “Married with Children’s” Kelly. In other words, she’s there to look at. With these four kids, I’d move to Arizona, too. Run, don’t walk, from “Run of the House.” —P.N.


Steve Harvey, the folksy, plain-spoken actor (“The Steve Harvey Show”) and standup comedian who appeared as MC in Spike Lee’s hilarious “Original Kings of Comedy,” comes back to prime-time TV in a show with a democratic premise you can’t help but love: a spotlight on ordinary people with a flair for the unusual. You could call “Steve Harvey’s Big Time” (The WB, Thursdays. 8 p.m. ET) “America’s Funniest Homebodies,” blending as it does elements of “Star Search” and — if you go that far back — “Ted Mack’s Original Amateur Hour.”

Guests may include a 4-year-old girl from Kansas whose total recall of world leaders may put adults to shame; and a 10-year-old boy from Doylestown, Pa., a kid known as the Godson of Soul who loves James Brown — and busts a move the Godfather of Soul would be proud of.

“We don’t talk to celebrities on this show,” Harvey says. “We talk to the superstars of your neighborhood.” Everyday people have rarely been so much fun. —M.E.R.


Two couples play off each other in “The Stones” (CBS, mid-season, day and time TBA), a brother-sister duo (Jay Baruchel and Lindsay Sloane) and their parents (Judith Light and Robert Klein). The young generation steals the show. Baruchel and Stone come off as likable, believable squabbling siblings who, even though they’re young adults, are still floored when their parents announce a divorce.

Light and Klein, as the parents, have their braying volume turned up to 11. Jokes about parents having sex are about as unfunny as you’d think. Baruchel could go far, but he’s only growing moss on “The Stones.” —G.F.C.


In the tradition of black nuclear-family sitcoms from “Good Times” to “The Bernie Mac Show,” Tracy Morgan’s prime-time bow fills a programming niche that NBC has generally abandoned in recent years, conceding the black situation comedy to mavericks UPN and The WB.

“The Tracy Morgan Show” (NBC, night and time TBA) is accessible enough: Tracy Mitchell (Morgan) lives in New York City, making a solid living as owner of an auto repair business, with a sturdy family life as husband and father of two. The supporting cast is likable: Tamala Jones (star of “Two Can Play That Game” and “The Brothers,” and guest star in other sitcoms and dramas) is Morgan’s significant other; his sons are the adorable Marc John Jefferies (diminutive star of the early PeoplePC commercials) and Bobbe J. Thompson, a precocious, very funny 7-year-old whose comic timing and self-confidence are well beyond his years.

We’ve been here before, it’s true; the family sitcom is one of television’s hardy perennials. It’s hard to see how “Tracy Morgan” figures in the Peacock’s plans; at this writing, NBC hasn’t even got the show on the fall schedule. But Morgan, a six-year veteran of “Saturday Night Live,” has earned a shot at bringing some new life to an old genre. —M.E.R.


It’s one of the golden rules hanging in every network executive’s office: If you don’t know what else to do with your show, bring on a Cute Kid.

From Cousin Oliver on “The Brady Bunch” to Scrappy-Doo on “Scooby-Doo,” the kids are just never as endearing as the show creators hope.

“Two and a Half Men” (CBS, Monday, 9:30 p.m. ET) takes a cute kid and two familiar faces, throws them in the sitcom blender and hopes a funny show comes out. Charlie Sheen (“Wall Street”) plays a bachelor jingle writer whose world is turned upside-down when brother Jon Cryer (still most famous for “Pretty in Pink”) and his round-faced kid move in. If you guessed that the childless bachelor discovers a heretofore unknown love for kids, well, you’re obviously well-versed in sitcom clichés. Sheen makes the best of what’s mostly dull material, Cryer whines a lot, and the kid is not as cute as he needs to be. —G.F.C.


The new American Normal is a raw and sensitive thing. What may be the first post-Sept. 11 primetime show that mines aspects of Sept. 11 as a lever for comedy almost falls flat on its face. Almost. “Whoopi,” (NBC Tuesdays, 8 p.m. ET), Whoopi Goldberg’s first foray into prime-time TV comedy has flashes of sass and inspiration, but trafficks easily in TV cliche.

Goldberg plays Mavis Rae, a brash, opinionated owner of a small Manhattan hotel. Mavis navigates the usual madcap family shoals, coping with her brother Courtney (Wren T. Brown) looking for work as a lawyer; his girlfriend Rita (Elizabeth Regan), a woman with identity issues of her own; and Nasim (Omid Djalili), the hotel’s frenetic Iranian handyman who hastens to distinguish between himself and Arabs.

Djalili’s Nasim will be a litmus test for just how ready America is to make fun, however obliquely, at the new reality occasioned by Sept. 11 and the global ethnic discord that’s followed. It’s a delicate area, and Goldberg & Co. are game for the challenge. The show whacks the nerves of ethnicity, race and sex, but it’s hard to say it’s done in a meaningfully provocative way so much as it’s a mishmash of sitcom tropes with the occasional peppery viewpoint, usually delivered by the Whoopster herself. —M.E.R.