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TV Reviews : High Points Buried in the Corn of ‘Torkelsons’

NBC’s new comedy “The Torkelsons” speaks in an Okie twang. But in any language, its premiere at 8:30 tonight on Channels 4, 36 and 39--hasn’t got much going for it beyond an occasional glint of wit peeking through the country high jinks.

The setting is a small town where indigent but resourceful Millicent Torkelson (Connie Ray) heroically makes clothes from her curtains and outfoxes bill collectors while eking out an existence in a Victorian house with her five kids.

It’s 14-year-old Dorothy Jane (Olivia Burnette) who shares center stage with her eccentric mother, an outsider in this oddball household, ever fearful of being publicly embarrassed by the uncouth behavior of her family and sitting in her window at night pouring out her heart to the “man in the moon.”

Tonight, Millicent orders a radical “Torkelson three-clang alert” to save her washer and dryer from being repossessed, takes in kindly boarder Wesley Hodges (William Schallert) to help pay bills and has some square new neighbors over for dinner.

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Naturally all the Torkelsons act strangely, and Dorothy Jane is mortified, then later devastated by the possibility of losing her room to Wesley. All this emotionalism in a dizzy sitcom? This is what the industry calls a heartwarming comedy, meaning that Dorothy Jane and Millicent inevitably reach that point in the half hour when the script requires them to share the obligatory Serious Moment, in which they temporarily make up, tear up and, best of all, ultimately shut up.

There are crevices of nifty satire buried in the corn of “The Torkelsons.” But most of the humor here is elusive, to say the least. Maybe the “man in the moon” gets it.


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