Once, just once, I would like to see a TV sitcom about Irish characters resist the urge for a "drunken Irishmen" joke. I'm not offended by the stereotype so much as by the lack of originality.
But there it is, like a rainbow leading to a pot o' fool's gold in the first episode of NBC's "The Fighting Fitzgeralds," tonight at 8:30.
"Hey, Patrick, wanna go get drunk?" the slacker Fitzgerald, Terry (Chris Moynihan), asks his brother.
'The Fighting Fitzgeralds'
When: 8:30 tonight on NBC.
Starring: Brian Dennehy.
When: 8:30 p.m. tomorrow on CBS.
Starring: Bette Midler, Robert Hays.
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Mr. Fitzgerald (Brian Dennehy) frowns, prompting Terry to explain, "He's sad, it's happy hour, we're Irish -- do the math, Dad."
The laugh track roars its approval, but discerning viewers won't join in the cheers for NBC's latest sitcom malarkey. There's nary a laugh to be had in this tale of a New York Irish clan. Executive producer Ed Burns ("The Brothers McMullen") should know better.
Dennehy, a fine dramatic actor, lumbers through the sitcom's sets as if he's a giant in a doll house. He's a retired firefighter who's conservative and unwilling to get all touchy-feely when it comes to talking about emotions and relationships.
His boys are a sitcom diverse lot: Terry's a bartender, Jim (Justin Louis) teaches P.E., and Patrick (Jon Patrick Walker) is a Wall Street player who burns out and moves back to the family homestead.
There's no mention of Mrs. Fitzgerald in tonight's premiere, so she's presumably gone to that great drinking establishment in the sky. Jim's wife, Sophie (Connie Britton), serves as the primary source of estrogen in the house and the sane voice among the macho din.
Last week, CBS's "Some of My Best Friends" played off Italian and gay stereotypes, but it succeeded in using some obvious (but mostly original) gags to a good end: Laughter. "Fitzgeralds" will have to continue the good fight to achieve that.
"Bette" (8:30 p.m. tomorrow, CBS)
"Bewitched" switched Darrins. "Roseanne" switched Beckys a couple of times. And now "Bette" gets a new Roy.
It's the second cast change for the low-rated CBS sitcom. A different actress played Bette's daughter, Rose, in the pilot, and actor Kevin Dunn, who played her husband, Roy, quit late last year.
Robert Hays inherits the role in tomorrow's episode. Only the scenes that begin and end the half-hour were available for review. In both, star Bette Midler and her castmates break the fourth wall and wink at the audience about the cast change to mixed effect.
After Connie (Joanna Gleason) complains about a switch in actors on "The Bold and the Beautiful," Bette says that's why she doesn't watch TV.
"You get used to an actor playing a role and then they switch and no one's supposed to notice," she says. "I mean, how dumb do they think we are? Am I right, Roy?"
Hays, who's had his head in the refrigerator until this point, emerges to reveal the new, thinner, younger Roy. Call him Roy 2.0.
Roy takes a swig of the milk and does a spit take.
"I think that milk's been in there since the last Roy," Connie quips.
Rose (Marina Malota) fails to recognize Hays as her father and doesn't want to hug him.
"It's OK, honey, you don't have to do anything you don't want to do," Bette says. "You know, the first Rose wouldn't hug her daddy either."
Hearing that veiled threat, Rose runs to Hays for an embrace.
It's cute in a "we're all TV insiders" way, but also a little too obvious. Maybe if "Bette" were the first show to acknowledge a cast change it would seem fresh. But "Roseanne" did it first and did it better.
You can reach Rob Owen at firstname.lastname@example.org Post questions or comments to www.post-gazette.com/tv under TV Forum.