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Tuesday Tragedy

NBC’s Whoopi and Happy Family: The first new sitcoms of the fall season—don’t blink.



The Summer That Didn’t Suck (TV-wise, anyway) is now officially over. FX’s Nip/Tuck, Bravo’s Queer Eye For the Straight Guy, A& ’s MI-5, Comedy Central’s I’m With Busey and Reno 911, Showtime’s Dead Like Me, Spike’s Stripperella, HBO’s The Wire and Project Greenlight, NBC’s Last Comic Standing, UPN’s Next Top Model, Fox’s Keen Eddie and The OC—all good stuff.

So good, in fact, that The Only TV Column That Matters™ still hasn’t gotten to most of that teetering stack of 40 or so tapes and DVDs of the networks’ new fall shows. See, the daily life of a TV critic is a busy one: Put in an obligatory appearance at the office, pick up a 12-pack on the way home, watch TV, yell “Hey, I’m workin’ here!” at tearful family attempting an intervention, watch some more TV, take a Hot Pockets break, watch some more TV, pass out under a pile of empty Dead Horse bottles, wake up the next morning/afternoon, watch some more TV, bang out some genius on the keyboard, repeat.

Envy this glam lifestyle if you must (go ahead, take a moment) but know that it includes wading though preview pilot tapes for sitcoms like Whoopi (NBC; debuts Tuesday, Sept. 9). In case you hadn’t gathered, Whoopi is an NBC “star” vehicle for Whoopi Goldberg, much in the way Emeril was an NBC “star” vehicle for celeb chef Emeril Lagasse two falls ago. His sitcom was savaged by critics, rejected by viewers and executed by NBC after several failed attempts at retooling a show that was disastrously conceived, cast, written and perhaps even catered. Emeril became TV biz shorthand for colossal clusterfuck.

Whoopi is going to have a much nicer ring to it.

Goldberg stars as Mavis Rae, a one-hit wonder ’80s singer who now runs her own hotel in Manhattan. She drinks, smokes and barks her loud, knee-jerk liberal opinions at anyone within earshot. Her brother Courtney (Wren T. Brown) is uptight and acts “white.” His white girlfriend Rita (Elizabeth Regan) is hip-hop conversant and acts “black.” Hotel handyman Nasim (Omid Djalili) alludes to being an Iranian soldier every 60 seconds as if on cue. If the only element here striking you as remotely funny is “that last guy,” give yourself a Hot Pocket.

Whoopi, the one-hit wonder ’80s actress, fancies Mavis (why isn’t the show called Mavis, anyway?) as an au courant Archie Bunker, a harried Everyperson who riffs on social and political subjects with no regard for being politically correct—she’s saggy and sassy, damn it! While jokes about Enron and President Dubya’s pronunciation of “nuclear” really are as late-2003 topical as All In the Family, Goldberg’s Mavis just comes off as a menopausal version of—strangely enough—ex-boyfriend Ted Danson’s Becker ... minus the laughs ... or any hope of lasting as long as Emeril (one month, Dead Pool wagerers).

True TV is going to not-so-boldy declare Whoopi the first cancellation of the 2003-04 season, with an asterisk noting that she’ll most likely take Tuesday sitcom pairing Happy Family (NBC; debuts Tuesday, Sept. 9) right down with her big booty. Which is too bad, considering the show is by default the best new sitcom NBC has, besides Coupling—which shouldn’t count, having been lifted lock, stock and too-smoking dialogue from the BBC original, anyway.

Over-the-top comic vets John Larroquette and Christine Baranski play upscale suburban parents whose last son (Tyler Francavilla) is about to graduate and finally split the nest like his perfect brother and sister before him. Thing is, he lied about graduating (kinda like me when I got this job), and he’s moving in with the hot 30-something divorcée next door. Meanwhile, brother Todd (Jeff Davis) is cheating on his fiancée, and sister Sara (Melanie Paxon—the squeaky girl from the Glad Bag commercials) is an emotional basket case whose only male companionship is a bird named Eric. Hilarity almost ensues.

Now imagine how lousy Whoopi must be to make Happy Family look good in comparison. Man, I want my summer back ...