If mediocrity were food, what would it taste like? The corrugated cardboard of salt-free rice cakes? The wet tire rubber of a stale bagel topped with mealy tomato? The mortar of a mouthful of Grape Nuts without milk or fruit?
Let's call TBS's "The Bill Engvall Show" a plate of cold tuna casserole, without those canned onion rings on top. The series was made merely to fill a gap -- an empty stomach, an empty half - hour -- and nothing more. It's a rigorously unoriginal family sitcom, and I can't think of any reason to choose to watch it unless you have a taste for styrofoam. The laugh-tracked show, which premieres tonight at 9, is not horrendous; that would at least be interesting. It's just bland TV glop that bypasses your taste buds on the way down.
Bill Engvall is part of the Blue Collar Comedy pack, along with Jeff Foxworthy, Larry the Cable Guy, and Ron White. He's personable, with a sparkle in his eye and a good-old-boy goatee. He is, to quote the title of his book, "Just a Guy." His themes include being a hunting-fishing man, the comic trials of his family, and his signature bit, "Here's your sign," about people who are so stupid they should wear warning labels. His stand - up is not very distinctive; and it's even less so when delivered in the form of scripted comedy. Domestic sitcoms don't come much more generic than this one.
Engvall plays Bill Pearson, a Colorado family therapist who helps dysfunctional clans all day and then struggles with his own brood at home. Oh those crazy kids and their belly rings and homework woes! He's not a sissy-man -- you know, he lets his wife attend the PTA meetings and his response to a male teacher who liked reading Jane Austen as a teen is "Well that's just gay." But he gets all gooey by the end of each episode, when the moral of the story is revealed.
The wacky situations and jokes on "The Bill Engvall Show" seem almost willfully dated -- a snake gets loose in the house, daughter Lauren (Jennifer Lawrence) walks in on her naked Mom and Dad. These bits might have held some spark a few decades ago -- and then again, they might not have. But at this point in time, the material makes "According to Jim" look almost fresh.
Naturally, Bill's wife, Susan, played by Nancy Travis, is the sensible one. That's standard issue on this kind of show. Susan humors Bill, but she's really the one in charge of him and the three kids. Meanwhile, Bill humors his office friends, including a podiatrist who is played painfully broadly by Steve Hytner. Hytner is best remembered as Kenny Bania on "Seinfeld," although you might want to banish him from your memory completely after watching him here.
I suppose there's an audience for the show. It has a white-picket-fence atmosphere that might appeal to those who want a quaint TV escape but don't have the energy to go looking for TV Land on their cable box. Why turn on the stove when there's leftover oatmeal in the fridge?