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TV Review: Dysfunction punctuates Fox's new comedy 'Titus'

Monday, March 20, 2000

By Rob Owen, Post-Gazette TV Editor

In tonight's series premiere of Fox's "Titus," stand-up comic Christopher Titus (pretty much playing himself) and his half-brother Dave (Zack Ward) think their father is dead.

Although the show is a comedy (you can tell by the overly boisterous laugh track), tonight's episode has a few poignant moments. But they'd be a lot more meaningful if you ever believed for a nanosecond Dad was really dead. Instead, you wait the entire episode for his inevitable resurrection.

"Titus" chronicles Christopher's dysfunctional upbringing through current-day turmoil and flashbacks to his childhood. His father, played by Stacy Keach, is fond of the phrase "Don't be a wussy" and thinks it's best to learn from experience.

When young Christopher prepares to stick a paper clip in an electrical outlet, Dad doesn't stop him. "Bet you're not going to do that again?" Dad says after we hear Christopher get shocked.

Titus also talks to the camera in self-conscious black and white scenes, similar to ABC's divorced Boomer drama "Once and Again."

With its emphasis on dysfunction, "Titus" allows for dramatic moments that actually ring true. But they're few and far between in this show punctuated by flashbacks that interrupt the narrative flow. "Titus" suffers from a TV version of Attention Deficit Disorder, similar to the tangents on Fox's "Family Guy" but a lot less funny.

Not only is Titus's dad a mean cuss, but also his mom was diagnosed as a manic depressive schizophrenic, or as his father so tactfully puts it, "Son, your mom is shacked up in the wacko basket."

Titus's half brother, Dave (Zack Ward), is a dim bulb, while his co-worker and friend Tommy (David Shatraw) is a balancing influence. The same goes for Titus's girlfriend, Erin (Cynthia Watros), who puts up with a lot. An upcoming episode depicts their breakup in a realistic way, but it also mirrors a Ross-Rachel storyline from "Friends" a few years ago.

Titus is an appealing leading man, and because he's playing himself there's not much acting required -- just a lot of strutting about the stage.

Watros shines, bringing a believable strength to what could be a standard girlfriend role. She won't put up with foolishness, but she's also got a soft side. Imagine a young Helen Hunt.

Keach is all menace as Titus senior, and wiry Ward plays the typically unsophisticated sidekick (Pop culture aside: He played the bully Scut Farcus in the movie "A Christmas Story.")

In a future episode Titus praises Erin's strength and composure. Then to remind viewers they're watching Fox, he exalts her nipples, calling them "my friends."

That exemplifies the dysfunctional nature of "Titus." It strives for honesty and something better than the average sitcom. But it settles for breast jokes.

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