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TV Reviews : Combative Talk Entertains in ‘Fanelli Boys’

“The Fanelli Boys” is a likable little NBC series about noisy Italian-Americans whose combative talk around the family dinner table and elsewhere--with their hands, naturally--gives prime time a rare ethnic comedy whose stereotypes are far less insulting than endearing.

It premieres at 9:30 tonight on Channels 4, 36 and 39, hereafter to appear in its regular 9 p.m. Wednesday time slot.

The principal Fanellis are Theresa, the widowed mother (Ann Guilbert), and her four sons: Dominic, the hustler (Joe Pantoliano); Anthony, the mortician (Ned Eisenberg); Frank, the playboy (Christopher Meloni) and Ronnie, the college student (Andy Hirsch). Also dropping by is Uncle Angelo, the priest (Richard Libertini).

The strengths here are the writing and the characters, and a strong cast that is able to implement the material. With “The Fanellis” you get punchy one-liners in a humorous home setting where the mother tries to match the single Anthony with prospective mates and where the brothers reflect on the various melodramas in their lives.

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Episode 1 finds Theresa sacrificing her own plans in order to straighten out the lives of her sons--Dominic and Anthony are broke, Frank has romantic problems and Ronnie is leaving school for a woman twice his age. By episode’s end, they are all on the verge of moving back into the family house.

The pasta is good, the only bad taste coming with macho Frank’s double use of queer as a synonym for gay . You accept it the first time because it’s in character. The second time, it becomes obnoxious.


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