Television Reviews : 'The Thorns'

Times Television Critic

It continues to wear third-place Nielsen ratings like a horse collar, but credit ABC with at least exploring some interesting side streets, from "thirtysomething" to "The 'Slap' Maxwell Story."

The latest off-center twist is "The Thorns," a promising, somewhat dark comedy series from Mike Nichols arriving at 9 tonight on Channels 7, 3 10 and 42 as part of a Friday night schedule shift that drops "The Pursuit of Happiness" from the ABC lineup.

Literate and urbane, "The Thorns" pursues laughs with a family that does for parenting what the Bakkers did for ministering. Taped in New York, the setting is a swank Manhattan townhouse occupied by the social-climbing Sloan and Ginger Thorn (Tony Roberts and Kelly Bishop) and their three kids, a grouchy French maid, a street-tough mother's helper and Sloan's earthy Brooklyn mother, Rose (Marilyn Cooper).

Rose goes to live with them after her house burns down, throwing a kink in a fund-raising bash thrown by Sloan and Ginger for typically self-serving reasons.

This pilot is deftly directed by John Bowab, and Nichols directs the second episode. In this, his first TV venture since co-creating ABC's "Family" in 1976, Nichols is blessed with a strong cast (Roberts is especially on form) and a funny premise.

What's likable about the Thorns in tonight's amusing script by Allan Leicht is that they are refreshingly unlikable, falling well short of rotten, but not exactly "The Cosby Show" either. Sloan's off-handed disclosure that he has had a vet do away with the elderly family dog creates emotional havoc with his kids, but he doesn't seem to care.

"There's a time and place for feelings," says Sloan, snottily. But seldom on "The Thorns," happily.

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