'Davis Rules' -- and maybe it won't

TELEVISION

January 25, 1991|By Michael Hill

No matter who wins the football game, the real winner of the Super Bowl is "Davis Rules," the new half-hour sitcom that ABC will put on after the game, guaranteeing that it will be among the top five shows of the week.

It's a sendoff that has backfired -- remember "The Last Precinct?" Thought not -- and provided springboard -- "The A-Team," "The Wonder Years" -- to success. Basically, it guarantees people will watch one episode. Whether they'll want to watch any more is up to the show itself.

(Extra credit pop quiz: what show did CBS run after last year's Super Bowl?)

As for "Davis Rules," which will be on Channel 13 (WJZ) around 10:30 Sunday night, you have to say that the jury is still out, partly because ABC didn't provide the first episode for preview purposes. It sent out the second one, which will air at the series' regular time slot on Tuesday at 8:30.

But judging from that second episode, "Davis Rules" is the type of show that could flounder about with no visible direction or it could jell into a tight, funny, well-done comedy. Though the point spread is close, smart money is moving toward floundering.

Executive producers Marcy Carsey and Tom Werner seem to have learned something from their last debacle, Jackie Mason's "Chicken Soup." Namely that they can't follow the formula that works for them on "The Cosby Show" and "Roseanne" because there are few comedians whose comedy translates to the sitcom format the way Bill Cosby's and Roseanne Barr's do.

So, Jonathan Winters, the standup comedian in "Davis Rules," is given a supporting role. He's sort of the comic relief. That a sitcom needs comic relief points out some of the problems in "Davis Rules."

Randy Quaid is the star of this show that makes a half-hearted attempt to duplicate the formula that worked so well on "The Mary Tyler Moore Show" and its heirs -- a together central character surrounded by a group of slightly zany types.

Quaid plays Dwight Davis, dedicated educator picked to be the principal of his high school. At home, he's the widowed dad to three sons as well as the caretaker to his offbeat father, retired Marine Gunny Davis, played by Winters.

On Tuesday the gap between the two arenas is bridged by an attractive teacher named Cosmo Yeargin, played by Patti Clarkson, who becomes the object of the entire Davis family lust when Dad hires her to tutor the eldest boy Robbie, played by Trevor Bullock.

One thing is clear in "Davis Rules," Winters has not lost the ability to make people laugh. Though the studio audience is a bit too anxious to go bananas at his antics, Winters is still able to inject his peculiar brand of craziness into the mix.

A bit tougher to judge is Quaid's ability in a role like this. He plays it a bit too broadly, trying too hard to hit those laugh lines. The Davis character should be more contained if he is to provide the show's stable nucleus.

But the real problem with the second installment of "Davis Rules" is that it doesn't seem to have a center anywhere, and that's not Quaid's fault, it's just that none was provided in the script.

The transition from school to home is awkward and provides almost no time even to get the cast of characters straight in either place. And at home, Winters' Gunny never seems to be a member of the family, but rather this funny guy who happens to live in the house.

The kids seem fairly generic at this point and though you do get to know Robbie a bit, the situation that gets him on center stage -- he needs a tutor because he's having trouble at school since he can't adjust to his father being principal -- is awfully contrived.

Now maybe all this will be different after you see the introductory episode that follows the Super Bowl. Remember those great MTM pilots -- Mary Richards' first trip to the newsroom, Gary Sandy arriving at the radio station in "WKRP in Cincinnati" -- that in 24 minutes let you feel that you knew every one of the people in the cast and had for years?

Maybe "Davis Rules" will have such a pilot Sunday night and Tuesday's show will suddenly seem like a pleasant visit with old friends.

Then again, maybe not.

(Quiz answer -- "Grand Slam" with Paul Rodriguez and John Schneider.)

geb,11,12

"Davis Rules" * * A widowed father of three, who also cares for his wacky Dad, becomes principal of the high school where he's been a dedicated teacher.

CAST: Randy Quaid, Jonathan Winters

TIME: This Sunday at 10:30, then Tuesdays at 8:30.

-! CHANNEL: ABC Channel 13 (WJZ)

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