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Television Review

Drescher’s new sitcom sounds familiar in several ways

In “Happily Divorced,’’ Fran Drescher has split with her husband (John Michael Higgins) but is still living with him. In “Happily Divorced,’’ Fran Drescher has split with her husband (John Michael Higgins) but is still living with him. (TV Land)
By Matthew Gilbert
Globe Staff / June 15, 2011

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I do have a soft spot for Fran Drescher and her helium squawk. She’s naturally cartoony, and could conceivably be Donald Duck’s live-action niece from Queens. But she also projects a kind of naive common sense and New Yorky gumption that reminds me of early Barbra Streisand, before our Babs started taking herself too seriously.

If I were a casting director, I’d probably be relegating Drescher to supporting roles, since a little of her nasality goes a very long way. But I would be wrong; she’s a viable comic lead in the exaggerated world of multi-camera sitcoms, and the six-year run of “The Nanny’’ is proof of that. Drescher has resisted playing one-joke comic relief in TV’s ensemble casts, and it has mostly paid off for her.

But even if you’re a Fran fan, you might not fall in love with her new TV Land series, “Happily Divorced.’’ The show, which premieres tonight at 10:30, is stubbornly mediocre, as it machine-guns stale and redundant one-liners at us. Like “Hot in Cleveland’’ and “Retired at 35,’’ TV Land’s two other original sitcoms, it stays old school and unambitious in order to blend in well with the classic sitcoms on TV Land’s roster. The scripts are more like excuses for the stars to go on camera and ham it up than well-constructed state-of-the-art comic material.

Drescher plays a woman named Fran, whose husband, Peter (John Michael Higgins), declares he is gay after 18 years of marriage. “But we just had sex during Leno,’’ Fran responds. “How gay can you be?’’ They divorce, but continue to share a home due to real estate market issues. You can see where this will go simply by the premise, and it goes there in spades, as Fran tries to date while Peter hangs around doing stereotypical gay activities and wearing blue contact lenses.

Almost every joke is built on two things — that Peter is so obviously gay, and that Fran should have known sooner. All the expected punch lines come up, involving the Village People, “The Sound of Music,’’ and Peter’s fashion sense. Maybe if the show had aired before “Will & Grace,’’ some of this would have more zing, but now it only seems like a rehash of old gay stereotypes that we’ve moved past in so much of the mainstream media.

The “Happily Divorced’’ setup is loosely based on Drescher’s relationship with her ex-husband, Peter Marc Jacobson, and they are both executive producers on the show. But their experience as friendly exes doesn’t result in anything particularly distinctive on the screen. It’s the kind of throwback you just might want to throw back.

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

HAPPILY DIVORCED

Starring: Fran Drescher, John Michael Higgins, Rita Moreno, Robert Walden, Tichina Arnold

On: TV Land

Time: Tonight, 10:30-11