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TV REVIEW : ABC's 'Byrds of Paradise' Whistles a Maudlin Song

March 03, 1994|HOWARD ROSENBERG | TIMES TELEVISION CRITIC

You wonder about Hawaii-based TV series like "The Byrds of Paradise." Do they come up with the idea first, or the catchy title? It couldn't be "The Smiths of Paradise"? "The Schwartzes of Paradise"?

Or does the attitude come first? Premiering at 8 tonight on ABC (Channels 7, 3, 10 and 42), "Paradise" is a pleasant enough family drama, but it's also a tidal wave of predictability that wears its warmth like a grass skirt.

Recently widowed Sam Byrd (Timothy Busfield) has given up his job as a Yale philosophy professor for a headmaster's post at a small private school on a lush Hawaiian island, where he and his family have moved into a grand yellow house on the Pacific. But Sam's three kids--gregarious, 16-year-old Harry (Seth Green); brooding, 15-year-old Franny (Jennifer Love Hewitt); and feisty, 11-year-old Zeke (Ryan O'Donohue)--are having a rough adjustment. Encumbered by his "mainland mentality," Sam, too is reeling from culture clash, among other crises.

In his first 24 hours at Palmer School, Sam suspends a student out of ignorance, Franny steals the family car, Harry is tormented by locals and Zeke is "depantsed" by his new classmates and gets into trouble with the police. "You're having a busy day, Mr. Byrd," a cop tells Harry.

Not so busy, however, that these snafus can't be tidied up by the end of the hour.

The performances are nice, with Hewitt especially winning as the fitful Franny. Series creators Channing Gibson and Charles H. Eglee have written one very amusing scene in which a flower child applies for a job as the Byrd's housekeeper after living nude in the rain forest for years. And the Hawaiian locations and prominence of local actors give "Paradise" an appealing ambience.

What literally ruins this series, though, is its absence of surprises. You always know what's coming. When Byrd inadvertently splashes mud on and angers striking Healani Douglas (Elizabeth Lindsey) while driving to school on his first day, for example, you know she'll end up working at the same school (as dean of students, in fact).

And no loose ends either. The last 10 minutes of the premiere and next week's episode are mea culpa time, with all protagonists re-examining their klutzy behavior and deciding to reform, becoming bigger and better for the experience.

At the maudlin conclusion of tonight's hour, the Byrds bury their own differences while standing before a volcano, but it's viewers who get splattered by ooze.

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