"Glory Daze," which premieres Tuesday on TBS, is a nostalgia piece set in an Indiana university in the year 1986, although it is less about life as it was lived in 1986 than it is about the movies that might have helped form a person going to college then. Chief among them would be "Animal House," but early Bill Murray or anything branded "National Lampoon" or concerning teenage boys eager to lose their virginity would also count.
That is nothing its creators — Walt Becker, the director, indeed, of the 2002 college comedy "National Lampoon's Van Wilder," and Mike LeSieur, who wrote "You, Me and Dupree" — are at any pains to disguise; in fact, it seems very much the point. But it does make their show feel secondhand, and whatever surprise or delight there is to be had from its jests and situations will be best appreciated by viewers who have somehow managed not to see any of those films, or any of the many films that copied them, or possibly any films whatsoever. It also helps if you're the sort of person who enjoys jokes about inebriation, masturbation, urination and testicles. That would not hurt at all.
Apart from some random window dressing and passing cultural references, there is no real attempt to capture the social flavor of the 1980s; with only the merest cosmetic changes, the show could be shifted whole a couple of decades backward or forward, the beer and the pot included. Yet if the pilot is generic and wan, it is at least sweet-tempered and not completely offensive (though this is somewhat at odds with its cinematic heritage). I did not like the Mexican-dwarf-as-walking-platter-of-dip gag, but for the most part the episode contents itself with the shy rituals of heterosexual male bonding. Women are both an obsession and an afterthought here.
The performers are, for the most part, appealing. The four freshmen at the series' center make a Whitman's Sampler of familiar types. Kelly Blatz is Joel, the most "normal" one, which means he is fundamentally blank past the usual fumbling niceness, and the usual crush on the usual golden girl (Julianna Guill). Jason (Drew Seeley) is a preppy young Republican whose girlfriend declares his dorm room "a perfect mix of Ralph Lauren and William F. Buckley"; Eli (Matt Bush, making an impression) is a Jewish virgin and Brian (Hartley Sawyer) a reluctant athlete. That the jock and the Reaganite are also just regular guys is as novel a notion as "Glory Daze" has to offer.
They quickly make their way to Omega Sigma, the local house of animals, where beer runs from the kitchen taps, girls in bikinis gambol upon the lawn, and the brothers project porn onto the wall of a neighboring building. The Bill Murray of this household is named Mike Reno (Callard Harris) and comes complete with plaid sports jacket, aviator sunglasses and accessory golf club. He opens his wings to take our heroes in, and thus does their real education begin.