Times Staff Writer

At first encounter, "The Popcorn Kid" smells like the real thing: fresh and hot.

The setting, inside a grand old movie palace in Kansas City, is unusual; the lead, a "popcorn pusher" played by Bruce Norris, is appealing, and the opening credits are bouncily engaging.

However, upon actually tasting this new CBS comedy series, which premieres at 8:30 tonight on Channels 2 and 8, you find it's the same preprocessed, stale stuff that everyone else is serving these days.

Like many of the movies that its Majestic Theater would play, "The Popcorn Kid" is aimed at teen-agers.

Created by executive producer Barry Kemp and story editor Mark Ganzel for MTM Productions, it's sort of an adolescent "Taxi," set around the candy counter that employs four high school students (Norris, Penelope Ann Miller, Jeffrey Joseph and Faith Ford).

The series even has its own Rev. Jim (a spacey projectionist played by John Christopher Jones) and disagreeable boss (the cantankerous theater manager, played by Raye Birk).

The first episode centers around Norris falling all over himself to impress Ford, the theater's newest usher--a beautiful blonde and brainless (excuse me; that's redundant in the land of the sitcom) cheerleader. She's so self-centered that she doesn't even know he sits behind her in two classes at school.

That makes her a bimbo and him a chump for asking her out anyway. Really makes you want to tune in next time, doesn't it?

Next time, incidentally, will be Friday at 8:30 p.m., where "The Popcorn Kid" will thereafter be seen.

The show's best line is a throwaway. Emerging from the storeroom, Miller tells Norris, "You're going to have to put real cheese in the mousetrap: The mice aren't falling for the nacho dip."

The writers might benefit from that advice as well.

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