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Television Reviews : ‘Coach’ Needs a Game Plan--and More Laughs

A network’s ways can be mysterious.

“Coach” is finally coming off the bench. In what’s being billed as a sneak preview, the ABC comedy premieres at 9:30 tonight (on Channels 7, 3, 10 and 42), where it’s expected to get a huge sampling following the hit “Roseanne.” “Coach” then reappears in its regular time slot at 9 p.m. Wednesday.

So far, so good, except that Wednesday’s second episode is actually the pilot, which sets up the series and tonight’s first episode. So tonight’s viewers will be wondering why coach Hayden Fox (Craig T. Nelson) repeatedly groans about being “new” to parenting. After all, his daughter Kelly (Clare Carey) is 18.

Wednesday’s episode will explain that Hayden is a divorcee, and that Kelly only recently has come to live with her father while attending Minnesota State college, where he is football coach.

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What “Coach” needs even more than a game plan, however, are laughs.

Tonight, in an episode nearly as inept as the Screaming Eagles he coaches, Hayden goes berserk when he learns that Kelly has a date with a middle-aged professor. There are some nice moments between Hayden and his doltish assistant (Jerry Van Dyke), but nothing to compensate for an otherwise witless story burdened by hackneyed, brain-versus-brawn characters.

Although no rocket, Wednesday’s episode is stronger and funnier than tonight’s, injecting at least some nuance and amusement into this dormant father-daughter relationship. Meanwhile, Hayden gets romantic with a TV newscaster (Shelley Fabares).

The cast performs intelligently, but deserves better material. For “Coach,” not a championship season.

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