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TV REVIEW

Popularity lost in 'Papa'

The laid-back stand-up style Tom Papa is known for falls short in sitcom.

June 03, 2004|Carina Chocano | Times Staff Writer

The popular stand-up comedian Tom Papa has been Jerry Seinfeld's opening act for several years. He has appeared on "The Tonight Show," "The Late Show with David Letterman" and -- wait for it -- "The View." He opened for Kenny Loggins. If you ran NBC, you might have given him a show, too. And if you were Loggins, you might not mind your name being a recurring joke in the pilot episode, since, whatever, it couldn't hurt.

With a popular stand-up as its namesake and centripetal star, "Come to Papa" is a sitcom from the old school. And these days, that's kind of a brave thing to try. Created by Papa and former "Friends"-ter Greg Malins and co-executive produced by Andy Ackerman ("Frasier," "Seinfeld," "Everybody Loves Raymond," "Curb Your Enthusiasm"), the show has a goofy amiability about it, but not much else.

Tom Papa plays Tom Papa, a New Jersey newspaper reporter who dreams of becoming a comedy writer. But the premise is almost incidental. Tom bounces between home, where his blond wife, Karen (Jennifer Aspen), waits on the couch ready to deliver her lines; the local coffee place, where the girls behind the counter think he's slow (he's just tired); and work, where his evil editor Blevin (Steve Carrell) treats him poorly.

In the first episode, Tom gets a job writing new TV ads for a local tire salesman named Crazy Benny. (No relation to Eddie.) Tom's friend Judah (Robert Patrick Benedict) wins a bet they made 15 years earlier when he finally sleeps with all the girls in their science class. An inhospitable postal worker, played by former Lakers and Chicago Bulls star John Salley, uses his bathroom, helps himself to his cold cuts and delivers to his wife valuable items intended for others.

I don't get it.

Hapless encounters with the service sector, middle management and government workers have long been a staple of the sitcom writers, so the situations would hardly matter if the ensemble clicked a little better.

NBC sent out only the pilot episode for review, which isn't much to go on. Glorified sales tools that they usually are, pilots are often overstuffed with exposition, as needlessly dense as a Christmas turducken. But "Come to Papa" doesn't have that problem. In fact, it just sort of floats there.

Maybe it's that Papa's laid-back, observational stand-up style loses its snap in a context as aggressively mannered as the traditional sitcom.

Jerry Seinfeld may have pulled it off, but Papa lacks Seinfeld's rabbity energy, lunatic timbre and mean streak.

Also, Papa don't act. Or maybe he's just sleepy.

*

'Come to Papa'

Where: NBC

When: Tonight, 8:30

Rating: TV PG (may not be suitable for young children)

Tom Papa...Tom Papa

Jennifer Aspen...Karen

Robert Patrick Benedict...Judah

Steve Carrell...Blevin

John Salley...Postman

Created and written by Greg Malins and Tom Papa; executive producers, Malins and Andy Ackerman. An NBC Studios and Warner Bros. Television production.

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