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TV Review: 'O'Keefes' a refreshing, good-hearted satire

Wednesday, May 21, 2003

By Rob Owen, Post-Gazette TV Editor

Hundreds of video tapes pour in for review every year, and often I have a pretty good idea of what I'm going to get. Blessedly, every now and then there are pleasant surprises.

"The O'Keefes"

When: 8:30 p.m. tomorrow on The WB

Starring: Judge Reinhold, Kirsten Nelson


The WB's new single-camera sitcom "The O'Keefes" is one of those surprises, an imaginative, funny comedy about pop culture-hating parents who home-school their children.

It's not what you would expect from a show The WB has clearly given up on, debuting it tomorrow, the day after the end of sweeps, in the early doldrums of summer with barely any advance publicity.

No episodes beyond the pilot were made available for review, but my guess is the show simply can't hold up. It's a one-joke premise that works well in the first episode but is probably unsustainable for a series.

Harry (Judge Reinhold) and Ellie (Kirsten Nelson) O'Keefe home-school their three children to protect them from the evils of the world. But after teenagers Danny (Joseph Cross) and Lauren (Tania Raymonde) get a taste of what a public school offers, they're ready to enroll full time. They plead with their father, telling him he's given them book smarts, but now they need street smarts.

"Yes, like how to ride the perpetual stairs at the mall without being sucked under," naive Danny says.

Younger brother Mark (Matt Weinberg) longs for a chance to watch TV -- the O'Keefes don't have one in their home -- but that's not going to happen.

"My dad says it's like letting the media urinate in your eyes," he explains, staring at a TV set that's not on at a library. "But I think its pictures are beautiful."

"The O'Keefes" pokes amiable fun at this square family, but it also lifts them up. It's a similar feeling to the vibe in "The Brady Bunch Movie," affectionate satire that's neither mean-spirited nor disparaging.

Tomorrow's premiere was written by series creator/executive producer Mark O'Keefe. Whatever future episodes look like, he's written one of the best sitcom pilots of the past season. His clever dialogue is matched by the comic timing of the cast, particularly Reinhold, who gets his best role in years.

Harry worries after his kids return from their first day of school. Danny almost got into a fight and Lauren put on makeup.

"Death threats and harlotry!" Harry exclaims, but Danny's not worried about possibly getting in a fight. "Oh, it starts with the kicking and then comes the perversion of the mind and soul," his father says, remembering being picked on in school. "Then they steal your book bag."

"The O'Keefes" comes to the airwaves DOA, but at least it offers a half-hour of funny, refreshing entertainment on a night when most everything else is a rerun.

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

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