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Not funny, relatively speaking

'It's All Relative' wants to be a modern 'All in the Family,' but tired stereotypes and lame jokes kill the premise.

October 01, 2003|Craig Tomashoff | Special to The Times

About halfway through the first episode of "It's All Relative," a couple of blue-collar guys are sitting in a bar when the distressed bartender explains that his son is marrying a woman raised by two gay men. Upon hearing this frightening news, the lout on the right smacks the bar and announces, "I blame Clinton!"

This moment is notable for two reasons. Reason 1: It's a smart, observant gag that is the first funny thing in the show. Reason 2: It's a smart, observant gag that is also the last funny thing in the show. Feel free to go get a snack or switch over to the Weather Channel once the line has been delivered, because this one moment of sharp satire is, well, pretty much that. Everything else before and after is so overstuffed with predictable gay jokes that "It's All Relative" makes "Queer Eye for the Straight Guy" seem as macho as "Monday Night Football."

Here's the wacky premise (and this really does seem like a series that was sold strictly on the basis of having a wacky premise): What would happen if a fellow named Bobby (Reid Scott), son of a working-class Boston bar owner, Mace (Lenny Clarke), decided to get hitched to Liz (Maggie Lawson), who grew up with two gay dads, Philip (John Benjamin Hickey) and Simon (Christopher Sieber)? Not much, apparently, with the exception of a number of lame jokes that seem to have the depth and imagination of something written on a cocktail napkin at Mace's bar 10 minutes before closing time.

For instance, when Bobby stays over at Liz's house and sees a nude male portrait, he says, "I can't sleep with a naked man in the room." She responds, "Bobby, it's art." And, of course, he shoots back, "I don't care what his name is. He's outta here!"

With Clarke's blue-collar loudmouth and all the politically incorrect gay references, it seems that the show's goal was to be a latter-day "All in the Family." Strike a blow against stereotypes by using them for punch lines. Then everyone will see how ridiculous they are.

However, everything about the writing is just too easy. You can see the jokes coming two sitcoms away. "All in the Family" tackled taboo subjects. "It's All Relative" goes after such fresh territory as gay men loving the theater or working-class guys discussing sports rather than emotions. Outside of the aforementioned Clinton reference, none of the humor seems connected to the real world in the way Archie Bunker's was. Which means the show ends up wallowing in the very stereotypes it was supposed to be mocking.

For decades, gay men and women were either ignored or ridiculed in television shows just as they were in real life. Then, along came series like "Melrose Place" and "Will & Grace." If nothing else, "It's All Relative" has also found a way to strike a blow for equality. It proves that homosexual characters have just as much right as straight characters to be in a lousy show.


`It's All Relative'

Where: ABC

When: 8:30 p.m. Wednesdays; premieres tonight.

Rating: The network has rated the show TV-PG-D,L (may not be suitable for young children, with advisories for suggestive dialogue and coarse language).

Lenny Clarke...Mace O'Neil

Harriet Sansom Harris...Audrey

Reid Scott...Bobby

Maggie Lawson...Liz

Christopher Sieber...Simon

Paige Moss...Maddie

John Benjamin Hickey...Philip

Executive producers Anne Flett-Giordano, Chuck Ranberg, Craig Zadan and Neil Meron. Director (tonight's episode) Andy Cadiff. Writers Flett-Giordano and Ranberg.

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