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On the Tube: 'Growing Pains Movie' catches up with the Seaver clan

Friday, November 03, 2000

By Rob Owen, Post-Gazette TV Editor

Show me that smile again. Don't waste another minute on your cryin'. We're nowhere near the end. The best is ready to begin.

So began the theme song to "Growing Pains," ABC's bland family sitcom answer to the success of NBC's "The Cosby Show."

"Growing Pains" aired from 1985 to 1992 and continues to entertain a new generation in Disney Channel reruns. Eight years after its last original telecast, the whole Seaver clan returns for "The Growing Pains Movie" (7 p.m. Sunday, ABC). You'd think they could come up with a better title ("More Growing Pains" maybe?), but this is "Growing Pains." We're not dealing with superlatives.

Sunday's reunion movie is, like the sitcom that inspired it, inoffensive and mildly amusing. To expect more would be ludicrous.

As the movie begins, Jason (Alan Thicke) and Maggie (Joanna Kerns) are living in Washington, where she's on the staff of a dim-witted congressman. Carol (Tracey Gold) is a shark-like New York corporate lawyer, scam-savvy Mike (Kirk Cameron) is an advertising executive married to Kate (Chelsea Noble), Ben (Jeremy Miller) cleans pools in Beverly Hills and Chrissy (Ashley Johnson) is a nicotine-addicted high school student.

When Maggie gets fired because of the congressman's incompetence, she decides to run against him. The family moves back to Long Island (funny how none of them ever had an accent) to mount a campaign.

As with any sitcom reunion, the key to making it work is to keep the characters true to what fans remember. It's been years since I've seen an episode of "Growing Pains," but when Carol whines about Mike being late for a family reunion ("Mike will show up, say something charming and all will be forgiven"), "The Growing Pains Movie" hit the right note.

Fans of trivia might recall the show's last ditch effort to draw young viewers when 16-year-old Leonardo DiCaprio was added in 1991 as a homeless boy who moved in with the family. Alas, Leo is nowhere to be seen in this movie, but there is a winking "Titanic" reference.

At the risk of showing I remember way too much about "Growing Pains," why wasn't Mike's friend Boner included in the reunion? Nevermind.

My biggest gripe with "The Growing Pains Movie" is the way Chrissy's smoking is depicted. Save for a tacked on "kids, don't smoke" message in the closing narration, her nasty habit is played too lightly for a show that airs as part of ABC's kid-friendly "Wonderful World of Disney." Teen smoking is more than a growing pain and shouldn't be depicted as an adolescent indiscretion.

"The Simpsons" (8 p.m. Sunday, Fox)

I hate to give any ink to the return of "The Simpsons" for fear it will take viewers away from "Ed," the genial comedy-drama that airs at the same time on NBC. But this is the 250th episode of "The Simpsons," and it deserves some notice.

Other TV critics continue to praise "The Simpsons," but the season premiere does nothing to dissuade me from the belief that "The Simpsons" is not as good as it once was.

That's not to say "The Simpsons" is a bad show or that it deserves to get canceled. But the over-emphasis on Homer's stupidity is tiresome.

Tonight Homer becomes the mayor of New Springfield when the part of town assigned a new area code secedes from greater Springfield. The area code malaise is timely, but writer John Swartzwelder goes too far in one scene. After a river is drained and gold discovered, oblivious TV anchor Kent Brockman proclaims, "Because of you, Mayor Simpson, we're all taking golden showers."

I'd be the first to argue "The Simpsons" isn't a show for children, but this gag (and I do mean, gag) gets a little too specific even for "potty humor."

Living members of The Who make a special appearance, performing atop the Berlin Wall-like divider that separates New and Olde Springfield. This comes after they bail on a concert at Springfield's Yahoo! Search Engine Arena.

"The Simpsons" remains funnier than most half-hour shows on TV, but when Sunday night comes around, I'll be sticking with "Ed."

"Malcolm in the Middle" (8:30 p.m. Sunday, Fox)

When last we checked in on Malcolm (Frankie Muniz) and his rambunctious brood, little Dewey (Erik Per Sullivan) was chasing after a balloon on his way to getting lost. Tonight Dewey's journey continues while his family gets caught in a traffic jam on the way back from a water park.

The highway backup brings out the worst in them: Lois (Jane Kaczmarek) tries to control the situation, Hal (Bryan Cranston) obsesses over how he could have died and Reese (Justin Berfield) attacks an ice cream truck.

It's a half-hour of wild fun, but a little too over the top. Tonight's season premiere doesn't give viewers "Malcolm" at its dysfunctional best.

During November new "Malcolm" episodes will air both Sunday at 8:30 p.m. and Wednesday at 8 p.m. Next Sunday's episode is the best of the three Fox sent critics for review. It gives military school student Francis (Christopher Kennedy Masterson) his best showcase yet as he sneaks backwoods women into the school with disastrous results.

The main story of next week's episode concerns Malcolm's family going out to dinner with the family of Malcolm's wheelchair-confined friend, Stevie Kenarban (Craig Lamar Traylor).

Stevie's parents are freakishly polite, which irks Lois to no end. Eventually, everything unravels, but it happens in an exaggerated way that's rooted in reality. That's "Malcolm" at its best.

Rob Owen can be reached at 412-263-2582 or rowen@post-gazette.com. Post questions or comments about TV to www.post-gazette.com/tv under PG Online Talk.

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