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UPN animated comedy a lame attempt at humor

Sunday, April 25, 1999

By Rob Owen,Post-Gazette TV Editor

Struggling UPN tries to launch another series with "Home Movies" (8:30 p.m. tomorrow on WNPA), but like the network's recent sitcom, "Family Rules," this animated comedy looks cheap. At least it's better written.

Or is it?

Turns out "Home Movies" isn't written; it's basically improvised. Using a process called Retro-Scripting, producers concoct a basic story outline and then allow the actors to record scenes extemporaneously. The animation, done in the SquiggleVision style seen on Comedy Central's "Dr. Katz: Professional Therapist," comes last.

Tomorrow's premiere episode, "Get Away From My Mom," shows one of the pitfalls of this process: The half-hour seems like a collection of scenes rather than a cohesive episode.

Comic Paula Poundstone stars as the voice of Paula Small, a single mother of an infant daughter and 8-year-old son Brendon (voice of co-creator Brendon Small). It's Brendon who makes the home movies of the show's title.

In the premiere Brendon and his neighborhood friends Melissa (Melissa Bardin Galsky) and Jason (H. Jon Benjamin) make a short film titled "The Dark Side of the Law." It's a cute little short, filled with cliches in the cop-gone-bad genre, but it plays a small - and seemingly unimportant - role in the episode.

The main story concerns Paula dating Brendon's soccer coach, Mr. McGuirk (Benjamin again), and how Brendon tries to diffuse any possibility of romance. That doesn't require much work since McGuirk is kind of a jerk and newly divorced Paula has no real interest in him.

"I like to go into a date with a chip on my shoulder," Paula says, "like, 'How dare he ask me out?' "

The show's disjointed nature is reminiscent of Fox's "Family Guy," which also is more about tangents than plot.

While "Family Guy" is laugh-out-loud funny with frequently crude humor, you're lucky if you chuckle during "Home Movies." The humor is there, but it's dry as the desert. Rather than outrageous, the comedy in "Home Movies" is more of the smile-to-yourself-in-amusement variety.

In SquiggleVision the outer lines in drawings of the characters vibrate constantly, which is likely to drive some viewers nuts. It didn't bother me too much, but it lends the show a crude look that's more commonplace on basic cable.

Pairing "Home Movies" with "Dilbert," its lead-in, makes some creative sense since both shows are animated, but the subject matter couldn't be more different. While "Dilbert" spoofs office politics, "Home Movies" gently pokes fun at general human foibles.

Brendon Small is the most interesting character of the bunch. His look is all angles, from a pointy nose to perpetually swept back, spiky hair. He's a high-strung kid with a myopic vision of life as a movie.

Poundstone, a single mother in real-life, brings her deadpan wit to bear, for better or worse in "Home Movies."

"I've been hiding my light under your dad's bushel," she tells Brendon as she prepares for a date with his coach.

The closest to ha-ha funny the show gets is in scenes with Coach McGuirk. As voiced by H. Jon Benjamin, the character is an idiotic clod, but his dim-bulb demeanor offers an appropriate foil for precocious Brendon.

Still, "Home Movies" is so lackadaisical, it's hard to imagine UPN's most recently announced target audience - young males - having any patience for the program. The entertainment value is low.

But one thing producers got right was the show's music. Written and performed by Small and producer/director Loren Bouchard, the theme song and score are low-key and childlike. It's simple music, like the "Peanuts" theme - just a lot less enthusiastic.

Sort of like "Home Movies" itself.



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