Fox has another good idea gone bad premiering Sunday night. It's a sitcom set in a funeral home which, as fans of "The Loved One" can testify, is actually a perfect place for black humor and social commentary.
"Good Grief" makes it a lousy place for a bad vaudeville routine.
The setup has the owner of the Sincerity Mortuary die and leav the business to his daughter, Debbie, even though his son Warren works in the business. That leaves the door open for Debbie's husband Ernie to walk in and take over.
Ernie is not your mortuary type. He's a wild and crazy guy with con-man background. Warren is quiet and, as he always points out, dignified. What that means in sitcom terms is that Warren is the straight man, setting up jokes for Ernie to punch out.
The opening scene is of Ernie doing a ridiculous televisio commercial for the funeral home. Warren, in the middle of getting dressed, sees it and is so incensed that he storms into Ernie's office in his underwear, not noticing a bereaved relative there. Hey, the straight man's caught with his pants down! What a knee-slapper! Cue the drummer for the rim shot.
Ernie, naturally enough, is played by a stand-up comedian. An "Good Grief," which begins Sunday night at 9:30 on Channel 45 (WBFF), might have had a chance if casting had come up with a top rate talent who could keep you laughing so much you wouldn't notice the shabby surroundings.
Instead, they came up with Howie Mandel. The guy' comic-neurotic edge worked when he was playing the dramatic role of a doctor on "St. Elsewhere," but, as anyone who has seen any of his cable specials knows, sophomoric is too kind a word for his comedy. Juvenile might do.
So, in place of the carefully crafted satirical comedy that thi setting would allow, you get puns, sight gags, physical stuff, every kind of junk they can stuff into this corpse of a show, HTC coming off at times like an embalmed version of "Airplane."
At its best -- maybe twice for a total of 30 seconds durin Sunday's episode -- "Good Grief" is like "Soap" in a coffin. But that means it's about 15 years behind the times as far as trend-setting comedy goes.
And then, to make matters worse, they try to pull off a couple o scenes showing you that Ernie really does care as he gives a young boy a decent burial for his pet hamster. What a guy! What a sham!
The message is that he just cares about giving the living what they want. So why is it that next week he insists on granting the last wish of the deceased cross-dresser and bury him in a dress even though his family is appalled? Hey, no one promised you consistency. People go in and out of character, sequence and logical plot development all the time, if it will help set up another gag.
Actually, there are a few laughs in next week's episode, mainl because Tom Poston shows up as another regular, Ernie's old pal from con-man days. He provides a faster patter for Mandel than Joel Brooks as Warren or Wendy Schaal as Debbie can.
But the concept is still just as flawed. "Good Grief" could have been something new, something different, but instead it's just the same old razzmatazz.
"Good Grief" * When Ernie's wife inherits her father's funeral home, he brings his unconventional ways into the business, much to the chagrin of his dignified brother-in-law.
CAST: Howie Mandel, Joel Brooks
TIME: Sundays at 9:30
CHANNEL: Fox Channel 45 (WBFF)