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TELEVISION REVIEW

Old-school frat comedy has some work to do

From left: Hartley Sawyer, Drew Seeley, Kelly Blatz, and Matt Bush. From left: Hartley Sawyer, Drew Seeley, Kelly Blatz, and Matt Bush. (Eric McCandless)
By Matthew Gilbert
Globe Staff / November 16, 2010

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Think of “Glory Daze,’’ the new TBS dramedy, as a digital welcome mat. The show, which premieres tonight at 10, is an invitation for viewers of the younger persuasion to enter “Conan’’ at 11. About four college freshmen living pot-and-beer-bong-fueled adventures, it’s a portrait of the wacky frat-house culture of which Conan O’Brien is an icon.

Well-played, TBS. The network appears to have a game plan, revolving around Conan, comedy, and the all-important younger demos. But then the game plan might be a lot more promising if “Glory Daze’’ were a better show; it’s an average piece of work, crammed with every frat-boy cliche you can imagine, and cast with actors who don’t initially stand out. There’s very little originality afoot, from the flaked-out stoner dude who’s lived in Omega Sigma frat house for 10 years to the masturbation jokes.

However, “Glory Daze’’ does have a few distinctions that — if fostered by creators Walt Becker (“Wild Hogs“ and “Old Dogs’’) and Michael LeSieur (“You, Me and Dupree’’) — could ultimately save it from becoming an endless chronicle of jackassery. For one thing, the show is set in 1986 — cue the Fixx, cue the Pretenders — and so it has a warm nostalgic veneer. We see a college campus before dorm rooms were wired and students were attached to cellphones. MTV, only a few years old, was still primarily about music. The vibe of the show isn’t exactly innocent — you’d probably have to go back to the 1950s for that — but the culture is still less crowded and less networked than today’s.

“Glory Daze’’ also occasionally courts a sweet coming-of-age tone, as the boys reveal their particular vulnerabilities. It has hints at — and needs to pursue more aggressively — some of the character quirkiness that distinguished and lifted up Judd Apatow’s much better college series, “Undeclared,’’ from 2001. The “Glory Daze’’ crew is too stubbornly generic so far: Joel (Kelly Blatz) is the everyguy with a crush on a blond beauty; Eli (Matt Bush) is the virgin pretending to be a player; Jason (Drew Seeley) is the conservative preppy raring to bust out; and Brian (Hartley Sawyer) is the jock. With a few more little twists, such as the Catholic guilt that always only almost stops Joel from having a good time, the show would have a lot more flavor.

If “Glory Daze’’ were a gem, TBS might have drawn in newcomers who’ve so far avoided the channel of “Family Guy’’ repeats, the painful “Tyler Perry’s House of Payne,’’ and the mediocre “Are We There Yet?’’ Instead, the network is merely giving “Conan’’ fans something to wipe their shoes on.

Matthew Gilbert can be reached at gilbert@globe.com. For more on TV, visit boston.com/ae/tv/blog/.

GLORY DAZE

Starring: Kelly Blatz, Drew Seeley, Hartley Sawyer, Matt Bush, Tim Jo, Tim Meadows, Callard Harris

On: TBS

Time: Tonight, 10-11