Against the odds, ‘Life’ continues

Times Staff Writer

The ABC sitcom “Life With Bonnie” returns for its second season tonight with a new time slot and on a new day but faced with the same old challenge: to make a TV star out of Bonnie Hunt.

Network types have been trying to do that for years, and all you had to do to understand why was to catch her on a talk show. Coolly attractive, warmly conversational, quick on the uptake and laugh-out-loud funny. It was the whole package; all she seemingly needed was the right project.

Small but key roles in such big films as “Jerry Maguire” and “The Green Mile” kept her career chugging along, but her lively intelligence seemed like a can’t-miss match for the immediacy and informality of TV.

Through the early weeks of last season, it appeared “Life With Bonnie” might be the answer. Sure, there had been some initial uncertainty over the casting of her doctor-husband Mark Malloy (old pal Mark Derwin replaced Brian Kerwin) and with the writing chores (the staff was cut loose; Hunt and old pal Don Lake took over). But the series, which set up Hunt as a wife and mother of three as well as TV host of a Chicago morning show, enjoyed good ratings through the early weeks with its quirky balance of scripted comedy and improvisation.


Then, perhaps because of too much quirkiness, the numbers began to slip, and although a smattering of Hollywood heavyweights came running to lend a hand in guest-starring roles (Tom Hanks, Robin Williams and Kevin Pollak, among others), the series seemed to be lurching toward cancellation.

Yet here it is at its new 9:30 spot, with the biggest name on the guest list being fitness guru Jack LaLanne. In tonight’s episode, morning-show producer David (David Alan Grier) gives the chronically late Bonnie a ride to work to hurry her along, but he’s so worried about his co-worker that he leaves an iron on at his house, which ends up ablaze.

Racked with guilt, Bonnie insists that he move in with her brood, where everyone’s nerves get duly frayed. It’s a rather hackneyed plot device for a season premiere, with hubby Mark uttering the requisite “David’s driving me crazy” line scarcely five minutes into the show. Nevertheless, the episode has some funny moments, and the final segment with Hunt and LaLanne works beautifully.

“Life With Bonnie”? Let’s get through the season and then we’ll talk.