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Urkel matures into a charming leading man

Sunday, August 22, 1999

By Rob Owen, Post-Gazette TV Editor

The 1999-2000 television season kicks off with UPN's new sitcom "Grown Ups."

But with all the sex talk on this new series, a more accurate name would be "Horny People Who Can't Get Any."


"Grown Ups"

When: 9 p.m. Monday on UPN.

Starring: Jaleel White, Dave Ruby, Marissa Ribisi.


The show premieres at 8:30 p.m. tomorrow on WNPA, and will normally air Monday at 9 p.m.

The appeal of "Grown Ups" will be limited, but it's actually not a total debacle thanks in large part to its charismatic star, Jaleel White.

Believe it or not, Urkel has grown up to be a charming leading man. He wore geeky get-ups on "Family Matters," but White proves he can wring humor from a situation with more subtlety. In "Grown Ups" he does it with a look or line instead of a nerdy costume and nasal voice.

(The producers also take pains to distance White from the Urkel image by showing him as an athletic, basketball-playing guy's guy).

White plays J. Calvin Frazier -- the "J" must stand for Jaleel, since all White's co-workers referred to him as "J" at a recent press conference -- a young professional who likes to shoot hoops with his best friend, Gordon (Dave Ruby), who lives nearby with his wife (Marissa Ribisi).

"My job is now my career," Calvin says during a game with Gordon. "The girl you used to date, she's your wife."

Life changes, Urkel grows up.

But he doesn't necessarily grow wiser.

In tomorrow's pilot Calvin returns home to find his roommate has moved out and taken just about everything. Calvin even passes the movers in the hall and remarks on how he has a similar sofa. But does he run after them once he realizes what's happened? No, he laments the loss of his George Foreman grill.

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The sex talk begins when Calvin reads his ex-roommate's note, which includes, "P.S. I'm gay." From there it's a quick succession of misinterpretations out of the "Three's Company" writer's guide and Calvin thinks his new roommate (Soleil Moon Frye) is a lesbian and she thinks he's gay.

Naturally Calvin is intrigued about the possibilities of a lesbian roommate and asks her for sex tips in a crude scene that takes euphemisms to an extreme.

White is easy-to-like, but "Grown Ups" will appeal to few viewers older than 25. Even many of the show's target demographic - young guys - are likely to tune out. If they didn't watch last year's "Guys Like Us," there's no reason to think they'll tune in for this one.

Most distressing, the best parts of the pilot will be scrapped in subsequent episodes. Soleil Moon Frye was intended to be a regular cast member, but producers have decided to go in a different direction with Calvin's roommate for unspecified "creative" reasons.

It must be a money thing. Why else would you split up the former Urkel and Punky Brewster? Think of the promotional possibilities for a show with two child stars all grown up.

The pilot also introduces a love triangle element that's evidently not going to continue. That's OK, but I'm glad Bumper Robinson will be retained as a foil for Calvin and Gordon. His slick persona ("You can stop waiting," he tells his girlfriend, who Calvin had a crush on in high school. "Go ahead, exhale.") creates much-needed conflict on this otherwise happy-go-lucky show.

It's ironic "Grown Ups" is the first show out of the gate since this fall season has been rightly and roundly criticized for a lack of minority representation.

"Grown Ups" is nicely integrated in its racial composition, but as for the jokes, well, they'll only go over with viewers lacking maturity. The characters on this sitcom may think they've grown up, but they're not there yet.

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