'Surviving' the suburban blahs
If the phrase "cranky sitcom dad" sends shivers up your spine, if the prospect of seeing Bob Saget back in "Full House" mode gives you flaccid-sitcom flashbacks, if the promise of punch lines about balding men makes your throat tighten, and if the thought of one more sassy-cute sitcom daughter triggers a saccharine headache, then stay away from "Surviving Suburbia" at all costs. You may not survive this new ABC series, which premieres tonight at 9:30 on Channel 5.
I guess someone at ABC feels obliged to keep the long TV tradition of mediocrity alive, no matter how tired it is. Why else would the network bother with such an empty effort, a show that threatens to replace "According to Jim" as the supreme symbol of sitcom banality and laugh-track hell? Domestic comedy doesn't get more generic, more insipid, or more pointless than "Surviving Suburbia," and no, I haven't forgotten about "Gary Unmarried" or "In the Motherhood."
Saget plays Steve Patterson, father of two and husband to long-suffering wife Anne (Cynthia Stevenson). He's selfish and irritable, but, well, he's a suburban TV dad, and so he gets away with all kinds of attitude issues. Daughter Courtney (G Hannelius) is obsessed with Zac Efron (an ABC kid is required to worship Disney brand names), but her father is her real hero. Awww. Teen son Henry (Jared Kusnitz), meanwhile, knows how to keep Dad in his place.
Did someone say "wacky neighbor"? Jere Burns is on hand as Jim, who says and does such outrageous things that he casts Steve in a favorable light. In tonight's premiere, Steve reticently agrees to feed the fish of another neighbor, Onno (Dan Cortese), who is away. But when Jim joins Steve on the errand, the boys partake of Onno's cigars and a fire breaks out in Onno's house. Oh no! High jinks, as we say, ensue. So do typical-guy stripper jokes, since Jim is fixated on the fact that Onno owns R-rated nightclubs.
Perhaps there is some audience hunger for this kind of suburban escapism, where the biggest problems don't involve mortgages or job security so much as lazy writing and cliched characters. "Surviving Suburbia" is set in that unreal sitcom nowheresville where the backyards look a little like miniature golf courses and the kitchens resemble furniture-store displays. It's the TV equivalent of Styrofoam - flavorless, filled with air, eminently disposable.