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The 'Andersons' test: Can you go home again?

September 12, 2003|Mark Sachs | Times Staff Writer

There's nothing like a sitcom concept whose time has come, which is why television households are being overrun this season with boomerang kids.

But for Anthony Anderson, the idea of grown offspring returning home to live with mom and pop was torn from the pages of his diary, not a script treatment. As star and series creator of "All About the Andersons," an amusing if uneven half-hour comedy premiering at 9:30 tonight on the WB, Anderson has acknowledged that he's loosely playing himself: a single father named Anthony whose struggling acting career has forced him to leave New York for the comfort of his parents' L.A. home. Boy, is he in for a surprise.

The actor's small and not particularly memorable roles in such films as "Barbershop," "Me, Myself and Irene" and "Big Momma's House" still give him a hefty leg up on his TV counterpart, who's not above using his cute 8-year-old son, Tuga (Damani Roberts), as a sympathy prop at auditions.

Yet although work is spotty, the real challenge for Anthony is at home, where his dad, Joe (John Amos, "Good Times," "West Wing"), has mixed feelings about being reunited with his son and grandson. "Keep the cub, shoot the bear," he tells wife Flo (Roz Ryan, "Amen"). Joe has always been dubious about his son's prospects as an actor ("You saw the play he did at the church," he tells Flo. "Even the Lord fell asleep!"), saying that he'd be better off joining him at his barbershop than playing "pretend."

Amos and Ryan are the real pros here, providing strength and sass that help smooth out Anderson's tendency to overplay, perhaps trying too hard to make the most of this career shot. Dialing it down a notch might help him better negotiate the series' shifts in tone from the brash joking to feel-good shadings of domestic warmth.

The test for the series will be to keep Joe and Anthony's relentless head-butting from going stale, but executive producers James Widdoes and Marco Pennette have already made a move that could help.

The original pilot was shot with the Andersons having a medical student renting out Anthony's old room. That actor was subsequently canned and another was brought in, but he apparently wasn't the right fit either.

Enter Aimee Garcia ("Greetings From Tucson"), who had been scheduled to play the Andersons' attractive 18-year-old neighbor, Lydia Serrano. In the revised pilot, Lydia's now the medical student.

With her taking up residence, all sorts of plot possibilities arise, and what better way for Lydia to get to know "All About the Andersons."

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