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Married to the punch line

September 07, 2006|Paul Brownfield | Times Staff Writer

ON "Everybody Loves Raymond," Brad Garrett used his large body and ultra-deep voice to create a gentle, almost mincing wimp. It was funny. He was Robert Barone, Ray Romano's lower-achieving older brother, physically imposing but emotionally sensitive, a cop who was also a momma's boy.

In " 'Til Death," his follow-up sitcom to "Raymond" debuting tonight, Garrett yells more; at one point -- it had to do with a rant about his wife's herb garden -- I feared for his breathing.

" 'Til Death" is a sitcom about the prison of marriage, Garrett as the jaded lifer, and almost as soon as the sitcom begins you can feel where every joke is going to end.

The premise: Garrett and Joely Fisher (looking eerily like "Raymond's" Patricia Heaton) are the dazed, over-married Starks, Eddie and Joy, while Jeff and Steph Woodcock (Eddie Kaye Thomas and Kat Foster) are the newlyweds flush with love who've just moved in next door.

It's possible that Garrett, who was nominated for an Emmy in 2003 for his portrayal of Jackie Gleason in a CBS biopic, was attracted to the material because he gets to play a husband with a persecution complex, sputtering axioms. But the recipe for " 'Til Death" goes as follows: Hit audience over head with theme of show. Repeat.

HBO's recent "Lucky Louie" is a much truer homage to the death of gritty sitcom realism; " 'Til Death" is all low blows and pulled punches. Much of the pilot involves watching Eddie inculcate Jeff about the compromised misery awaiting him at home. Garrett, in these carpooling scenes, comes off as obsessive and inappropriate, like Robert Walker conniving to get Farley Granger to kill his father in "Strangers on a Train."

I don't think Hitchcockian is the tone " 'Til Death" is going for, not with lines like, "There's a reason why china rhymes with vagina."

" 'Til Death" is followed at 8:30 by the debut of "Happy Hour," or as I like to call it: "Really, Fox? This?"

It's of a theme, I suppose, with " 'Til Death," only here the guys are single, and manly mutual support is provided by a raffish layabout named Larry (Lex Medlin). Larry has some Internet T-shirt business and seems never to change out of his Polo shirt and blazer.

But he really exists as an upside-down life coach for sad sacks. Enter Henry (John Sloan), a guy in his building who gets dumped by his girlfriend and, faster than you can say "what else is on?," moves in with said Larry.

The title of "Happy Hour" comes from Larry's daily ritual of martinis at 4, which he signals by blaring the Dean Martin version of "Ain't That a Kick in the Head." He also talks like he's stuck in a permanent production of bad noir.

"Small-town hottie drags boyfriend to big city, just wants to be friends -- it's a tale as old as time," he says of Henry's plight.

Word.

paul.brownfield@latimes.com

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(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

' 'Til Death'

Where: Fox

When: 8 to 8:30 tonight

Rating: TV-PG DL (may be unsuitable for young children with advisories for coarse language and suggestive dialogue)

*

'Happy Hour'

Where: Fox

When: 8:30 to 9 tonight

Rating: TV-PG DL (may be unsuitable for young children with advisories for coarse language and suggestive dialogue)

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