Back in the year 1970, which is to the year 2009 as 1931 was to 1970, a young man named David Cassidy starred with his stepmother, Shirley Jones, in a show called "The Partridge Family," about a family pop band and its multicolored, refitted school bus. "I Think I Love You" was its actual top 40 radio hit. Cassidy went on to become a bona fide teen idol, followed by his half brother Shaun, who also became an actor and then a TV writer and producer ("American Gothic," "Cold Case," "Roar").
Now, Shaun has created "Ruby & the Rockits," an ABC Family sitcom that premieres tonight and stars David and Patrick Cassidy (Shaun's brother, David's half brother) as feuding siblings who in the late 1980s had a successful synth-glam band called the Rockits. (They keep their own first names here but are now surnamed Gallagher.) Also starring a singing Alexa Vega ("Spy Kids") and Austin Butler ("Zoey 101"), alongside Katie Amanda Keane and Kurt Doss -- in the Danny "Partridge" Bonaduce role of little wise guy -- it partly represents, I suppose, the network's bid to get into the pop-related teen-com field alongside Nickelodeon ("The Naked Brothers Band") and Disney Channel ("Hannah Montana," "Jonas"). But it is more of a standard family comedy -- that is, the parents are not merely appended to the kids. In any case, it is not especially good.
In tonight's pilot, the eponymous Ruby (Vega) shows up at the Florida casino where David is flogging the tail end of his legend to announce that she is his daughter and has come to stay. Apart from calling for a little rum to be added to his fizzy water, he takes this with remarkable equanimity, not even asking for proof of paternity.
David Cassidy, who will turn 60 next year, plays David Gallagher as a version of the show-business egotists his father, Jack Cassidy, specialized in. Younger readers may imagine Nathan Lane.
"You're my daughter," he says to Ruby. "It's like a dream come true."
"How do you think I feel," she replies excitedly, "meeting my dad the famous rock star?"
"That's what I meant."
As a man whose Keith Richards Lite lifestyle does not suit the presence of a teenage girl, he takes Ruby to live with Patrick, who has become successful selling SUVs in a parallel universe where "my business is doing so well that I'm thinking of opening another dealership in Tampa." There is only the briefest hemming (not even hawing) before she moves in with his family and makes them happier than ever, rewriting her cousin's songs of teen depression into market-ready hymns of positivity and giving her aunt (Keane) someone to hug. And before the pilot is over, David and Patrick will reunite onstage. (There are some well-realized pastiches of '80s pop for them to sing. "Chunnel of Love" is especially good.)
Given the dark flavor of Shaun Cassidy's adult TV creations and his own experiences within the music machine, "Ruby" feels surprisingly ordinary and uninformed, put together out of scraps from the old sitcom drawer. Nothing bad matters long here; comfort is quickly restored.
"Since you've come here, my boys are happy, my wife has a new accomplice and David and I are closer than we've been in 20 years," Patrick tells Ruby. "What I'm trying to say is, I am on to you." But he is only joking, unfortunately.
'Ruby & the Rockits'
Where: ABC Family
When: 8:30 tonight
Rating: TV-PG (may be unsuitable for young children)