"'Til Death," which premieres Thursday, Sept. 7, stars Garrett and Joely Fisher as middle-aged suburbanites Eddie and Joy Stark, who have logged 8,743 days on their marital tour of duty. Not surprisingly, the Starks are less than thrilled to discover that their new next-door neighbors are Steph and Jeff Woodcock (Kat Foster, Eddie Kaye Thomas), a chirpy pair of young newlyweds still in the first bloom of love.
"What I love about it, which I think is comparable to 'The Honeymooners,' is that [Eddie] is a flawed guy who loves his wife and doesn't really know how to show it, is really a big kid who won't grow up," Garrett says. "All the little schemes, all the little ideas, at the end of the day are really just for her, and that will be seen down the line.
"There are similarities to 'The Honeymooners': We have the couple next door that's freewheeling and close and takes life very simply, and the [husbands] have the camaraderie of the two different marriages. But what we love about how Joely is playing Joy is that she's not a victim to Eddie. She stands up to him. Eddie thinks he wears the pants, but at the end of the day he knows he actually doesn't. There's a lot of Alice [Kramden] there [in Joy]."
Garrett, who won three Emmys for his work on the long-running CBS hit "Everybody Loves Raymond," says "'Til Death" is built on the premise that strained marriages are always funnier than happier unions.
"I don't think you really want to watch a marriage that works," he says. "I don't know how funny that would be. I think there are different degrees of dysfunctional marriage. A marriage is a blending of neuroses. And Joely is just incredibly neurotic, as I am, and I think it's just finding that. From the beginning of television there have been couples that are caustic. ... We're not reinventing the wheel here; we're just putting our spin on it."
If "'Til Death" relies on a time-tested comic formula, the show gets a lot of freshness from the potent chemistry between Garrett and Fisher, whose rhythms are so in sync that they seem to have been together forever.
"Doris and I are often up for the same parts, actually," the actress says dryly. "No, I'm coming at this really fresh and trying to create somebody on TV that people will identify with and love to hate -- and love."
Garrett also says he sees little resemblance with "Raymond."
"I see this guy a lot different than [Peter's character]," Garrett says. "And I knew that if I wanted to go back into television, I would want to do a character that was very far removed from Robert on 'Raymond,' which I thought this character was. It just reminded me that a lot of the stuff on 'Raymond' ... was believable stuff, stuff we were all familiar with, and that's what attracted me to the role."
Well, that, and the fact that, he has to admit, his new character strikes pretty close to home.
"I'm a little sardonic and sarcastic," Garrett says. "This is really the first character -- and I'm not proud to say this -- that is very close to me."