TV REVIEWS : Uneven Trio of Sitcoms from CBS, NBC


The curtain goes up on three new comedies tonight. Starting with the best and working downhill. . . .

Lenny Callahan needs money to help pay for his father’s operation and is angry that he can’t get a loan:

“I’m being rejected by S & Ls run by convicted felons who steal from their own customers and then ask the government to bail ‘em out with my tax dollars. Pardon me, but this is a load of crap that wouldn’t fit in a Winnebago.”


His wife, Shelly, wants to know if he means a full-sized Winnebago.

All right!

Starring comedian Lenny Clarke as a hardhat who moonlights as a doorman, “Lenny” is a somehow-enjoyable, rough-around-the-edges, loud-mouthed CBS comedy that sort of bullies its way into your heart. It premieres at 8:30 tonight (Channels 2 and 8), to return Sept. 19 in its regular 8 p.m. Wednesday time period.

Get the earmuffs ready. I mean, this Lenny is just too noisy and intense to be endured for more than a few minutes, right? Actually, no--he grows on you. And much of what he utters--to his wife, kids, mother and father--are monologues that epitomize the frustrations of working-class America.

Although sometimes seeming to try too hard, Clarke is mostly terrific. Watching him work is like watching a burly bouncer snap off one-liners, and Lee Garlington is swell as his wryly humorous wife.

The premiere is uneven, its laughs easily able to fit inside a Winnebago. However, Lenny has some very nice moments with his father (Eugene Roche), and his relationship with his slug of a brother (Peter Dobson)--whose pouffed-up hair looks like it’s held in place by Krazy Glue--is just a sketch.


Give this man a loan. This is a series with promise.

“Fresh Prince of Bel Air” is being touted as a sure hit. If it becomes one, it will be because of the raw likability of its star, rapper Will Smith, not because of his acting skills or even anything that’s been written for him in this NBC comedy that premieres at 8 tonight on Channels 4, 36 and 39.

The tall, gangly Smith (better known as Fresh Prince) plays a Philadelphia street kid named Wil who is packed off by his mother to live with a rich aunt and uncle in Bel Air. This is set up in the opening credits, which are longer than some series.

The adjustment isn’t easy. Right away, Wil can’t tolerate the butler (“I will show you to your room, Master William”). But the big clash is with his snooty uncle (whose pretentious dinner party he is forced to attend) and his preppy and materialistic cousins.

Street smarts triumph over upper crust, however. Soon, Wil is “maxin’ and relaxin’,” and you with him, all the while enjoying this charmingly irreverent guy a lot, even though the premiere is tainted by buffoonish caricatures of the rich and phony and a script that is only moderately amusing.

Enough of the big three networks losing viewers to the brash programming on Fox. No more Mr. Nice Guy.

“Uncle Buck,” for example, is CBS’ reply to the raunchiness of Fox’s hit “Married . . . With Children.” The trouble is that although “Uncle Buck” is not as boorish as “Married . . . With Children,” it also is not nearly as funny.

In fact, “Uncle Buck” is not funny at all. Even having a character named Mrs. Crappier doesn’t make it funny. Premiering at 8 tonight on Channels 2 and 8, it’s less a comedy than a slobedy, a gross sitcom-version of the John Candy movie about an irreverently snidecracking, slovenly hulk of a man who becomes the guardian of his nephew and two nieces.

TV’s Uncle Buck (Kevin Meaney) repeatedly blows cigar smoke into their faces. But it’s CBS that’s blowing smoke--into the faces of viewers by even airing this half-hour of bilge, whose tone is set by these episode-opening words from 6-year-old Maizy (Sarah Martinek): “Miles, you suck!”

CBS says this is all right because 6-year-olds talk like this in real life, and, of course, its mission is to reflect reality. Uh huh . Soon after, Buck uproariously squirts mustard into his own face, meanwhile, it’s time for, yes, the obligatory Tender Moment, when his essential goodness is revealed and we all reach for our hankies.

To puke in.