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Columns
'Family Affair' reborn on WCWB

Sunday, September 08, 2002

By Rob Owen, Post-Gazette TV Editor

The WB's remake of "Family Affair" is one of those love it or hate it propositions. Some critics find Tim Curry as Mr. French creepy; I think he brings understated humor to a comedy that could have been really bad.


TV REVIEW

"Family Affair"

When: 8 p.m. Thursday on The WB.

Starring: Tim Curry, Gary Cole.

Who knows, it may still turn into a disaster in the coming weeks, but Thursday's one-hour premiere offers laughs for children and their parents.

Kids will love watching other kids (that's what made "Baby Bob" a mild hit); adults will get a kick out of two bachelors with no child-rearing experience who are suddenly thrust into parental roles.

For anyone younger than 35 who grew up in a city where reruns didn't air, "Family Affair" may not be familiar. The original series aired on CBS from 1966 to 1971 and told the story of a New York bachelor, his servant and his nieces and nephew.

The new "Family Affair" hews closely to the same premise. Set in a gleaming, fairy tale-like Manhattan (think: "Home Alone 2"), wealthy businessman Uncle Bill (Gary Cole) lives a rarefied existence in his Central Park East penthouse.

British Butler Mr. French (Curry) caters to his every whim. French likes order, loathes change and looks like he's about to be sick when Bill's sister shows up at the door with the young twins. She feels like she's done her time, raising the kids after the death of their parents. Now it's Bill's turn. That really means it's French's turn.

Young Buffy (Sasha Pieterse) and Jody are typical 6-year-olds, curious about everything and prone to accidents. They also expect to move in with Uncle Bill and begin looking for their room.

"And we're all pretending we didn't hear the child use the phrase 'our room,' " French says, beginning to worry.

Don't get too attached to Luke Benward, the young actor playing Jody in this week's premiere. He'll be replaced next week by Jimmy "Jax" Pinchak. Benward's not bad, but he is tentative and a little stiff.

After floundering in the sitcom "Over the Top," Curry seems perfectly suited to "Family Affair." It's his rigid demeanor and dialogue (from a script by executive producer Bob Young) that makes the series so much fun. French refers to Buffy's doll, Mrs. Beasley, as her "insensate fiber-filled friend." Even when scolding the children, he's proper.

"We disagreed over the disposition of the hors d'oeuvres," French tells Uncle Bill. "I thought the olives should be eaten. The young master thought they should be hurled like missiles onto unsuspecting passersby."

Just as there's critical disagreement over Curry as French, the show's laugh track will seem jarring to some because the show is filmed single-camera style, like "Malcolm in the Middle." The laugh track didn't bother me because it's reminiscent of the original, which also had canned laughs. Using a variation of the original show's theme song and kaleidoscope opening credits is also a nice nostalgic nod.

The show's not a complete throwback. The twins' older sister (Caitlin Wachs) is a folk-singing modern teen. Remaking Sissy - short for Sigourney and changed from the original's Cissy - is clearly The WB's attempt to woo young female viewers.

There's also some extremely mild sexual innuendo (Uncle Bill mentions testing bed springs with a date, a comment likely to soar over the heads of youngsters), and Mr. French, when provoked, does refer to playground bullies as "little bastards."

The WB's Entertainment president Jordan Levin said the series will be appropriate for children.

"My personal belief on sexual humor is that if it's a double entendre where you don't have to explain it to your children, that's OK," Levin said. "We want to avoid something where a child says, 'Daddy, what does X mean?' I sat down with my 6-year-old and watched it and don't think there was anything that would raise any questions."

Curry said the strength of "Family Affair" is that it's a fairy tale.

"It's a fantasy, really," he said. "All that matters in terms of the comic situation is that it's two guys who are completely ill-equipped to [raise children]. Therein the comedy lies, hopefully."

Curry said he's particularly pleased with the script for the first episode.

"One of the things I like about it is its joy in the language," he said. "That's always very key to me because I'd like it to be halfway literate."

"Literate" may be shoot-the-moon for a sitcom, but it's certainly not illiterate. The first new prime-time show to premiere in the 2002-03 season, "Family Affair" is a potential gem.


You can reach Rob Owen at 412-263-2582 orrowen@post-gazette.com . Post questions or comments to www.post-gazette.com/tv under TV Forum.

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