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Television Reviews : 'Pursuit of Happiness'

October 30, 1987|HOWARD ROSENBERG | Times Television Critic

A lot of colleges are narrow-minded and bound by convention. So you have to admire one that would hire Dave Hanley as an assistant professor in the history department.

The unstable and immature Hanley (Paul Provenza) has no teaching experience and last worked as a lumberjack. And who does he meet on his first day on the job in tonight's premiere of ABC's comedy "The Pursuit of Happiness" (at 9:30 p.m. on Channels 7, 3, 10 and 42)? Egyptian history professor Margaret Callahan (Wendel Meldrum), who is so spacey that she probably wouldn't know a Sphinx from a lynx.

Yes, you can bet a history degree from this school is really worth something.

Meanwhile, living across the hall from Hanley are his academic idol (lumberjacks read, too, you know), crotchety history professor Roland Duncan (Brian Keith) and Duncan's teen-age daughter Sara (Judie Aaronson). Add Hanley's boyhood friend Vernon Morris (Wesley Thompson) and you have everyone present for this hum-drum comedy that joins returning "Mr. Belvedere" at 9 p.m. in replacing the departed "Max Headroom."

Written by executive producer Michael J. Weithorn (who spent four years as supervising producer of NBC's "Family Ties"), the opening half hour has a few promising moments. It makes nice use of daydream segments, one of which has Hanley gabbing with his other idols, Thomas Jefferson and Magic Johnson (as himself). And you wouldn't want to miss the sight--and sounds--of the meek Callahan downing what is obviously her first beer.

Mostly, though, watching Hanley strive to become a "mature, responsible adult" is somewhat less than rewarding, and the broad gags, like a clock running 30 seconds slow, just don't quite get there.

Says our hero: "This settling down and being an adult thing--I'm not good at it." Nor at being funny, it seems.

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