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HOWARD ROSENBERG

The First Arrivals On The Home Front

September 10, 1986|HOWARD ROSENBERG

Be it ever so humble--and a couple of these are .

Here are three arriving series and a special that embrace TV's most familiar habitat, the home. The leader is the promising "Our House," a 7 p.m. Sunday series that NBC is shrewdly introducing at 8:30 p.m. Thursday, after a "Cosby Show" repeat. That will give it the enormous exposure it deserves and needs before facing CBS' "60 Minutes" on Sundays.

The other three are cable-bred:

"It's Garry Shandling's Show!" is a six-episode comic treasure arriving at 8:30 tonight on Showtime. "The New Leave It to Beaver" weekly sitcom, which premiered Monday on WTBS after a run on the Disney channel, is a dinosaur. And "Mr. Bill's Real Life Adventures" is a clunker Showtime special starring Peter Scolari as a real-life version of the ever-clobbered 10-inch clay character of long-ago "Saturday Night Live" fame. It airs at 10 p.m. Thursday.

"Our House" stars Wilford Brimley ("Cocoon") as terse, bristly Gus Witherspoon, a 65-year-old grandfather who opens his house--and his life--to his widowed daughter-in-law Jessie (former "Days of Our Lives" star Deidre Hall) and her three kids (Shannen Doherty, Chad Allen, Keri Houlihan) and their dog.

Gus' house takes on new, crunching rhythms, its solitude pierced by sounds of rock music, hair dryers and bickering grandkids who resist the old railroad man's rigid rules of behavior and attempts to maintain order. Gus and Jessie clash over the kids, and his ensuing chats about his changed life with his friend and neighbor, Joe Kaplan (Gerald S. O'Loughlin), are among the story's highlights.

The opener is flawed in spots. There is an absurd depiction of a school board meeting at which Gus bullies the board into letting his 15-year-old granddaughter take an honors course. And a sexist board member is overdrawn to comic proportions.

There are far more things to like about this drama created by James Lee Barrett, however. Its intelligence, cozy moods, textures and pacing at once recall "Family" and co-executive producer William Blinn's "Eight Is Enough." The relationships and major characters are real--these are people you like and understand--and so is Brimley, who rises above what easily could have been just another gruff exterior/heart-of-gold stereotype.

The nice thing about him is that he needs little dialogue. He is his own dialogue, one of those rare actors who speak even when he doesn't speak, a stoical chunk of a man whose mere presence is a form of communication.

His first-rate supporting cast includes Doherty as Kris, the 15-year-old with whom Gus has some very appealing moments in the premiere. She wants to be an astronaut. "Some people don't take me seriously because I'm a girl," she says. "By golly, I do," he replies.

"60 Minutes" or not, by golly, this is a series to check out.

House No. 2, meanwhile, belongs to the Cleavers.

It was absolutely un-American to dislike the original "Leave It to Beaver," which ran from 1957 to 1963 and now lives on in reruns. The series was milk and cookies, simple without being simple-minded, dishing out parental good sense and cute kids led by the irresistible Jerry Mathers as the Beav, who was so cute you wanted to hug your set.

But then America got older and so did everyone in the show.

"The New Leave It to the Beaver"--with the original cast except for the late Hugh Beaumont, who played patriarch Ward Cleaver--was a bad idea from the start, so bad that it naturally got made. To update you:

Now divorced with two kids, Beaver has moved back home with his mom, June Cleaver (Barbara Billingsley), at 211 Pine St. in Mayfield. Beaver's brother Wally (Tony Dow) and his family have moved into the house next door.

Troublemaking Eddie Haskell (Ken Osmond) is still around, and he's even got a son, Freddie (played by Osmond's son, Eric), who's cut in his dad's snotty image. And Lumpy (Frank Bank) is there too.

Now that Ward's gone, it's Beaver's responsibility to deliver the fatherly advice. When he gives out the scoop, the rest of the family sits around the dining room table and nods in agreement. Or is everyone nodding off?

This series isn't merely tired, it's limp--a lifeless lump, with plots and attempts at humor so witless that the laugh track sometimes seems almost to precede the jokes. And the cast is even worse. No one can act.

With America feeling nostalgic, the time may be right for the return of the Monkees, Gidget, Lucy and Andy Griffith, and there's even talk of remaking "Lassie." But popping the cork on "Leave It to Beaver" was a big mistake.

Compared with "Mr. Bill's Real Life Adventures" on Showtime, though, the 1986 Cleavers are the Old Vic.

The pitiful clay victim created by Walter Williams has been transformed into Dagwood Bumstead for this half-hour Thursday-night special. Peter Scolari of "Newhart" is Mr. Bill the family man, Christopher Burton is young Billy Bill and Mike McManus is Sluggo, who delighted in torturing and physically abusing Mr. Bill.

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