TV Reviews : THE NEW SEASON : Demented Experiment in 'Maniac Mansion'

Tonight's premiere of "Maniac Mansion" is a show about a dream about a show about a show. Otherwise, it's routine.

Uh, well, not entirely. It's also TV's first sitcom partially about a fly.

The fact that this half hour is appearing on The Family Channel--an extension of Pat Robertson's conservative Christian Broadcasting Network--is almost as bizarre as the unreal series itself.

Debuting at 7 p.m., "Maniac Mansion" is a weekly visit with eccentric inventor/scientist Dr. Fred Edison (Joe Flaherty) and his family. There's his wife, Casey (Deborah Theaker), and their three children, Ike (Avi Phillips), Tina (Kathleen Robertson) and Turner (George Buza), a 4-year-old with the hulking size of a 250-pound football lineman, thanks to one of Dr. Edison's scientific mishaps. Another Edison mishap gave his brother-in-law Harry (John Hemphill) the body of a housefly, which complicates Harry's marriage with Idella (Mary Charlotte Wilcox).

Like most dementia, "Maniac Mansion" and its shifting realities take getting used to. The opener--which the Edison family calls its 10th anniversary special--is strange, all right. It's also slow and rarely funny, even though Flaherty does get to bring out his goofy grin from his SCTV days and also does impressions of former movie stars.

It's next week's second show that is sometimes a hoot, as tiny Harry (who retains his human head) has a brief fling with a female fly ("Look, she's giving me the eyes"), much to the dismay of the jealous Idella. The resulting attempted murder of a fly is likely also a TV first.

That all of this (a family sitting around the breakfast table soberly discussing Harry's romance with another fly) is underplayed with straight faces only enhances the exquisite absurdity.

Co-executive produced by Eugene Levy of SCTV fame, "Maniac Mansion" is from Lucasfilm Ltd. Television and is loosely based on a computer game it's releasing this fall. It sure isn't based on prime time.

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