Scott Baio and Bailey Michelle Brown star in "See Dad Run." (Carin Baer, Nickelodeon )
Scott Baio, who was Chachi on "Happy Days" and "Joanie Loves Chachi" and Charles on "Charles in Charge," is now the star of "See Dad Run," the first scripted comedy from Nick at Nite.
Without being actually privy to the internal memos, I would guess that the series, which premieres Sunday, exists to follow the lead of rival TV Land, which has already added some original — in the sense of new — old-fashioned sitcoms to its rotation of actually old sitcoms. "Hot in Cleveland," with Valerie Bertinelli and Betty White, was the first; "The Soul Man," with Cedric the Entertainer is the latest.
"See Dad Run" represents a similar dip into the warm well of nostalgia. In a premise not as fully exploited as it might be, Baio plays actor David Hobbs, a beloved sitcom dad who must learn how to do the job in real life: The moment he has chosen to retire turns out to be the moment his actress wife, Amy (Alanna Ubach), is invited to return to work.
Now David, who sometimes confuses things he did on television with things he did in life, must manage their three kids on his own, his presumably enormous salary having bought the family no housekeeper or nanny in the 14 years since oldest daughter Emily (Ryan Newman) was born, followed by flatulent, hyperventilating middle child Joe (Jackson Brundage) and very small fry Janie (Bailey Michelle Brown), who says the darndest things.
You rarely see domestic help among the upper classes of American television. (Perhaps it is considered unseemly.) You can create your own rationalizing narrative for this, in which the characters are too stubborn or sentimental to want anyone getting between them and their spawn. But the family does eventually acquire a comical semi-domestic in the form of David's old personal assistant (Ramy Youssef), who shows up as needed with coffee or a fire extinguisher.
The show's purpose is not to break new ground but specifically to find a patch of old ground on which to pitch its tent and build a fire in whose warmth the viewer may happily bask. (Mark Curry, who was Mr. Cooper on "Hangin' With Mr. Cooper," is also in the cast, in the familiar best-friend role.) No one is going to be eaten by a bear here, or wander off permanently into the woods. Even as it makes a point of there being a difference between real life and situation comedy, it opts for the sitcom resolutions: "Real-life daughters stay angry a lot longer than a commercial break," says David's "real-life daughter," who will not stay angry even that long.
Is it good? It is, I would say, good enough. (If you want a family comedy that's better than good, watch "The Middle.")
As a Scott Baio Delivery System, it does its job, even as it prompts one to consider what better things he might have set himself to, in a parallel timeline. Certainly, it is no worse than "Charles in Charge" — which managed the neat trick of offering him both as father figure and teen crush, thereby ensuring the love of generations — a judgment you are free to regard as a kind of endorsement or damning with faint praise.
Baio himself is, in any case, easy to welcome back. He looks good for his age, 52, while looking his age: He has a kind of worn, or worn-in, charm, like an old leather jacket.
The character he plays here will not be wholly unfamiliar to viewers of VH1's "Scott Baio Is 45 ... and Single" and "Scott Baio Is 46... and Pregnant," reality series that faintly anticipate the present series' road-to-responsibility story line. And his naturally relaxed presence mitigates the show's more hectic leanings. He does not make a fool of himself.