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'Regular Joe': The title pretty much sums it up

March 28, 2003|Scott Sandell | Times Staff Writer

Never underestimate the power of likability to compensate for shortcomings. Case in point: the ABC sitcom "Regular Joe," premiering at 9:30 tonight.

As you might expect from the title, there's nothing groundbreaking or particularly distinguished about this series, at least judging from the first two episodes.

The premise, that of the single father, hasn't been a novel TV concept since the 1950s. Nor is it a new vehicle for its star, Daniel Stern, whose previous single-dad sitcom, "Danny," had a short-lived existence on CBS two years ago.

What sets "Regular Joe" apart is not the joke-telling, the camera work or even the family business -- a hardware store, one of those quintessential sitcom settings. Nor is it the plot of tonight's episode, titled "Puppetry of the Pennies," which focuses on the difficulties that the family members face in trying to make ends meet.

Rather, it's the actors and the characters assembled by series creator and executive producer David Litt for his cast, led by Stern as Joe Binder and Judd Hirsch as his father, Baxter. For as beleaguered as Joe can be -- what with being widowed two years ago; raising a teenage son, Grant (John Francis Daley); and supporting his college-age daughter, Joanie (Kelly Karbacz), a mother in her own right -- he never loses his happy-go-lucky spirit.

Obviously, this mind-set must be genetic, because everyone seems to share the same sensibility, right down to Joanie's infant daughter, whose sole bout of crying over the first two episodes is easily silenced by a bit of sweet talk.

The only real malcontent is Sitvar (Brian George), an immigrant from India who has worked at the Binder hardware store for 30 years. Though his scheming is relatively benign, more like mischievous fun than anything truly evil, it's unfortunate that the show's sole minority character is a troublemaker. It's sure to invite criticism from some quarters. But not here. After all, Sitvar is just so darn likable.

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