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TV REVIEWS : Oh, Pooh: A Shaky Debut for ‘Hi, Honey’

The goody-goody Nielsens live wholesomely and contentedly in Springfield, USA, a generic sitcom town hermetically sealed off from reality.

See Honey, the cheery, fudge-making mom in her pink dress and matching oven mitts (Charlotte Booker); Lloyd, the all-knowing, pipe-smoking dad (Stephen Bradbury); Babs, the bubbly, panty-girdled daughter (Julie Benz), and Chucky, their wide-eyed Boy Scout son (Danny Gura).

But what’s this?

After reruns of their antique black-and-white series are axed, this fictional ‘50s sitcom family somehow joins the real world. Placed in something called the Sitcom Relocation Program, the Nielsens are resettled in New Jersey as 1991 neighbors of the their real-life antithesis, the working-class Duffs.

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See earthy Elaine (Susan Cella), the divorced telephone lineperson who lives in constant turmoil with her two sons, Mike and Skunk (Pete Benson and Eric Kushnick), in a small, cluttered, run-down house on a weeded-over lot that stands in direct contrast to the Nielsens’ spacious, orderly colonial.

Will the Nielsens and Duffs somehow coexist quietly as neighbors?

Hardly, for the wide gap separating the pristine ‘50s sitcom ideal symbolized by the Nielsens and the rough-and-tumble lives of their 1991 counterparts is exactly the point of this comedy series, premiering at 9:30 tonight on ABC (Channels 7, 3, 10 and 42).

Guileless Honey questions Elaine about the absence of a Mr. Duff. “He passed away?”

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Elaine: “He ran away.”

Very nice. And as a concept, “Hi Honey, I’m Home” is clever nonsense from creators Rick Mitz and Penny Stallings, who give Gale Gordon a small role in the premiere and other old comedy series actors cameos in future episodes. But the show’s initially amusing sitcom caricatures are so broadly written that they wear thin before the first episode has ended. And some of the gags are labored--such as naming one of the families Nielsen and having Honey operate a “Turnerizer” that colorizes black-and-white pictures.

If the premise of “Hi Honey, I’m Home” seems unorthodox, consider the unprecedented way it is being made--as a co-venture between competitors ABC and cable’s Nickelodeon network. Under their agreement, Nickelodeon is producing the series (in Orlando, Fla.) for ABC and airing it itself two nights later (at 8:30 p.m. Sunday, with a repeat at 11). Plus, ABC and Nickelodeon will run promos touting the other.

ABC has scheduled six episodes of the series and Nickelodeon plans 13, commitments that could grow, depending on how the series is received by viewers.

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Meanwhile, Honey’s own words apply to the ultimately unsatisfying premiere: “Oh, pooh!”


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