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Television / THE NEW SEASON

Two Jokers, One Ace

'Tucker' and 'Yes, Dear' Go for the Cheap Laugh

October 02, 2000|HOWARD ROSENBERG

The new season is barely underway, and already prime time needs a cold shower.

Penis jokes arrive in a pair of grating new series, "Tucker" on NBC and "Yes, Dear" on CBS, which air at kid-friendly 8:30 p.m. (7:30 Central time). This groinspeak explodes tonight on "Tucker," but "Yes, Dear" makes viewers wait until next Monday's second episode, while giving equal time then to breasts.

On a cheerier note, a third comedy opening this week, Friday's "Madigan Men" on ABC, has a higher IQ, appealing main characters and even an occasional hearty laugh. Yet it, too, makes one needless below-the-belt reference, however obliquely.

Television's ways are often mysterious, so the strategy behind this anatomical orientation by NBC and CBS--on comedies highly accessible to the very young crowd--is anyone's guess. Especially now, just as the entertainment industry is being widely pummeled again for its sex-and-violence behavior, this time by both major presidential candidates, members of Congress and the Federal Trade Commission, to say nothing of much of the public.

How shrewd of the networks to rebut their critics by validating them.

Played by Eli Marienthal, the 14-year-old hero of "Tucker" spends the entirety of tonight's first episode in need of a cool-down, as he and his just-divorced mother (Noelle Beck) move in with her noxiously snotty sister, Claire (Katey Sagal), requiring him to share a room with his oafish blob of a cousin, Leon (Nathan Lawrence), who heaves him about like a sack of potatoes.

Aside from a fleeting homage to "The Invasion of the Body Snatchers," Leon's broadly played antics are the only thing even approaching humor in this grubby half-hour that goes for style while trying mightily to emulate Fox's infinitely smarter and funnier "Malcolm in the Middle." Fat chance.

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Tucker's main nemesis is his mean-spirited, hallucinatory Aunt Claire, who is so absurdly persuaded that he is turned on by her that she gossips to everyone in earshot that he is the neighborhood "perv." Hearing the scoop is even the dishy neighbor girl (Alison Lohman), who is the real object of Tucker's pubescent lusting and masturbatory impulses.

Actually, his troubles below are just one of those testosterone things that adolescent boys go through, a fertile topic for comedy, but one treated clumsily here. Although unseen by us, Tucker's hormonal surges are so visible to everyone else that, based on their responses, you'd think they were witnessing the Eiffel Tower.

When first arriving with his mother at their new home, Tucker is advised by his knowing uncle (Casey Sander) to keep his suitcase "in front of your body until it's safe to do otherwise." Then it's on to one such gag after another, as mentally you pack your own bags and leave this series even before the closing credits.

Two young couples with tots are the focus of "Yes, Dear," which plumbs that topic much less wittily even than the WB cartoon comedy "Baby Blues." In fact, the premiere is pretty much a monotone except for a single whopper sight gag relating to a tiny child's first wobbly steps.

Call that a rare lapse in bad writing in a series contrasting the finicky parenting of Greg and Kim Warner (Anthony Clark and Jean Louisa Kelly) with those of Kim's earthy sister, Christine (Liza Snyder), and brother-in-law, Jimmy (Mike O'Malley).

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As we get to know them tonight, Greg and the slobby Jimmy are taking care of the kids and giving their wives a day off at a fancy spa. Under Jimmy's influence, though, the brothers-in-law wind up at a casino, exploring the blackjack table as their toddlers explore the floor. Coming later is a payoff visual that is heroically funny, yet not worth the crawl getting there.

Nor do you want to spend much time with the harping Kim, so protective of her child that she fears leaving him alone with his father, or Jimmy, who is a domesticated version of the same dopey frat party guy that O'Malley played last season on his own NBC sitcom.

"Yes, Dear" makes an even bigger thud next week. After a funny opening bit about yeshiva boys playing basketball, the subject turns to kids and breast feeding, mingled with gross sight gags, as the Warners indulge in a boobs size/penis size dialogue that may have you wishing you were back at the blackjack table with Greg and Jimmy. No penis-joke envy here.

Some of America's funniest writers and performers have created humor from bad taste. Bad taste and bad gags, though, are the mother's milk of failure.

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* "Tucker" premieres at 8:30 tonight on NBC. "Yes, Dear" premieres at 8:30 tonight on CBS. Both have been rated by the networks as TV-PG (may be unsuitable for young children).

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Howard Rosenberg's column appears Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. He can be contacted by e-mail at howard.rosenberg@latimes.com.

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