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TELEVISION REVIEW

Painless fun with an animated dentist

Nick at NiteKevin Nealon voices the title character, who hits the road with his family in an RV. Nick at NiteKevin Nealon voices the title character, who hits the road with his family in an RV. (Nick At Nite)
By Joanna Weiss
Globe Staff / August 17, 2009

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There is no shortage of dysfunctional families in life - or in television. It’s just that the TV families tend to be cartoons - figuratively or literally - which means they can do things the rest of us generally can’t: you know, consort with talking dogs, cause meltdowns at nuclear power plants, plunder with Somali pirates.

By those standards, the Martins, the animated stars of Nickelodeon’s new “Glenn Martin, D.D.S.,’’ are fairly realistic; the most out-there character is 11-year-old Courtney, a budding CEO who already has a sycophantic personal assistant. Otherwise, this is a garden-variety nuclear family: Glenn, the dentist dad, well-meaning and slightly doofy; Jackie, his wife, cynical but supportive; Conor, his teenage son, awkward and hormonal; Canine, his dog, who acts like an actual dog.

They’re gentle - or, maybe, just edgy enough - which seems to be the operating vision for Nickelodeon’s “Nick at Nite’’ prime-time block. The network is aiming for fare that tweens and parents can watch together, and “Glenn Martin, D.D.S.,’’ which premieres tonight at 8, has that aura of cheerful togetherness about it, along with the sort of aggressive laugh track that still reigns on tween sitcoms like “iCarly’’ and “Hannah Montana.’’ It was created by Disney-chief-turned-producer Michael Eisner, who once came up with the idea of “Happy Days,’’ and while it’s updated to account for the texting and gaming that today’s tweens do, it feels deliberately old-fashioned.

That extends to its look, a stop-motion animation style created by Eric Fogel, the man behind MTV’s striking and much more cutting “Celebrity Deathmatch.’’ It’s a beautiful art form; the characters look like toys brought to life, and watching them makes you want to go out and buy modeling clay. And it’s well-suited to the premise: that Glenn, mourning a lack of connection with his kids, loads the family and his dentistry practice into an RV and hits the road. (The beauty of animation is that they can roam the nation freely, at no extra cost.)

In tonight’s premiere, Glenn decides the family needs a break from video games and cellphones, so he drives the RV to Amish country. What ensues isn’t particularly kind to the Amish - though how would they know? - and is moderately amusing. There’s a plot about Courtney corrupting Amish girls with a glowing celebrity magazine, a passable joke involving the Amish version of the “Sex and the City’’ women, and a funny bit involving a camera phone wielded as a weapon.

As Glenn, Kevin Nealon is likably clumsy, with a particular knack for delivering throwaway lines. “Hey, Google Maps. You guys don’t know what you’re missing,’’ he says as he fumbles with his cellphone, and it comes across well. It’s the grade of funny this show seems to have accepted - cute, giggle-worthy, and only a smidgen dangerous. To a family that has already shared the likes of Stewie on “Family Guy,’’ it must feel like some strange vestige of the rotary-phone past.

Joanna Weiss can be reached at weiss@globe.com. For more on TV, go to www.viewerdiscretion.net.

GLENN MARTIN, D.D.S. On: Nickelodeon

Time: Premieres tonight at 8

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