Offensive humor makes 'Royal Family' a royal pain


September 18, 1991|By David Zurawik | David Zurawik,Sun Television Critic

"The Royal Family" is a royal mess.

It's a show with regressive fat jokes and double-entendre sex talk scheduled at 8 o'clock when children are watching. It's a show that pretends to be blue-collar, but has no real sense of anyone ever scraping to make a mortgage payment or ends meet. It's a show that will be gone from the schedule in six weeks -- if we are lucky.

Premiering tonight at 8 on WBAL-TV (Channel 11), "The Royal Family" is basically Redd Foxx reprising cranky Fred Sanford -- minus the junkyard, plus another generation of family. The premise has Alexander Royal (Foxx) and his wife Victoria (Della Reese) anticipating the joys of his pending retirement from the U.S. Postal Service when their married daughter (Mariann Aalda) shows up with her three children. She and her husband are breaking up and she wants to move back in.

The humor -- using the word very loosely -- is in Alexander's reactions to the disruption of his life. There are repeated moments where 16-year-old Kim (Sylver Gregory) sits in Al's favorite chair, and he tells her to "get your skinny butt out of the chair."

The laugh track provides other big laughs when the exasperated Al exclaims, "motherfather," accenting it to sound like another less-mainstream expression. He says "motherfather" a lot tonight. Maybe someone from CBS can go along to school with each of the thousands of grade-school kids who will probably be trying out the exclamation themselves tomorrow to see if they, too, get the kind of social approval that a laugh track suggests.

But it's the regressive sensibility of the show that is really troubling. It opens with Al making jokes about Victoria's weight and raising his hand to her. True, she comes right back and insults him, and later they say how much they love each other. But fat jokes and the suggestion of physical violence is not funny in any context.

Then there's producer Greg Antonacci's claim that because this show is about "boomerang" children coming back to live with parents, it's a realistic depiction of life in the recession. This is baloney. As depicted in the show, the Royals have all the money they need for a nice, middle-class life. And Victoria is going to see to it that her child and grandchildren have a nice, middle-class lifestyle too.

And, if you really want a close analysis, ask yourself where the money comes from. The government. So some viewers might take this sitcom fact and incorrectly use it to support a real-life belief that the government takes care of all of us. So, why worry? Be happy.

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