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Review: Nick at Nite's 'Wendell and Vinnie' a familiar story

A goofy man becomes guardian of his uptight nephew and the usual, yet satisfying, high jinks ensue in Nick at Nite's 'Wendell and Vinnie.'

February 16, 2013|By Robert Lloyd, Los Angeles Times Television Critic
  • Jerry Trainor, left, stars as Vinnie, and Buddy Handleson stars as Wendell, in "Wendell and Vinnie" on Nickelodeon.
Jerry Trainor, left, stars as Vinnie, and Buddy Handleson stars as Wendell,… (Robert Voets, Nickelodeon )

In "Wendell and Vinnie," a new sitcom premiering Saturday on Nick at Nite before taking up its regular Sunday time slot, Jerry Trainor (as Vinnie) becomes the guardian of his orphaned 12-year-old nephew — that would be Wendell. Their names define them: Vinnie, loose and goofy; Wendell, tight and brainy.

The meeting of the juvenile adult and the adult juvenile, of the child who plays father to the man who teaches him to be a child, is not new in the history of storytelling. Nor is the tale in which a happy-go-lucky single person is suddenly taxed with and enriched by the care of an inherited youngster.

Created by Jay Kogen (a vet of "The Simpsons," "Frasier" and "Malcolm in the Middle"), it can seem obvious and prefab. Yet there is something natural and satisfying in the way that Trainor, informed that his nephew has never seen "Star Wars," replies, "That's like saying you've never seen ... Star Wars."

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Vinnie's own life is the pop-cultural memorabilia he buys and sells for what seems like a good living. (He owns a condo.) We meet him as he is taking delivery of an original Luke Skywalker light saber, "the holy grail of collectibles" — "except for the actual Holy Grail," as Wendell points out.

As Wendell, Buddy Handleson is all big ears and eyes and a piping voice. Dressed like a management trainee or fastidious senior, he has been saddled with a perhaps too-perfect storm of quirks: Any child whose interests include "the stability of the euro, early Sondheim and antibacterial soap," and who reacts to a gift of underwear by crying, "Underpants, yay! Hypoallergenic with a breakable panel in the gentleman's area!" is a child with a target painted on his back, not to say his Y-fronts.

It's not, strictly speaking, an impossible character. And Handleson, who previously played a 10-year-old college graduate on the Disney Channel sitcom "Shake It Up," does well enough with Wendell that you don't notice the presumably normal actor underneath.

Vinnie has a sister, Wilma (the always-welcome Nicole Sullivan, recently the needy therapist on "Cougar Town"), a high-strung personal injury attorney who believes that Wendell should be under her care. ("I am a warm, nurturing woman!" she screams.) Haley Strode plays new neighbor Taryn, the show's sane female element and resident source of attraction. ("I'm not just a guardian," Vinnie says to impress her, "I'm a legal guardian.")

Trainor will have a built-in appeal for viewers who watched him through seven seasons of "iCarly," on which he played Carly's older brother and guardian, a close cousin to the floppy human golden retriever he charmingly renders here. He is bait to bring aging small fry from Nickelodeon to the more adult Nick at Nite, where an STD joke awaits them:

Wilma: "I'm like a Cracker Jack box — eventually there's a prize inside."

Wilma's date: "Unless the prize comes with penicillin, I don't want it."

Just so you know.

'Wendell and Vinnie'

Where: Nickelodeon

When: 8 and 9:30 p.m. Saturday

Rating: TV-PG-D (may be unsuitable for young children with an advisory for suggestive dialogue)


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