'Royal Family' and 'Teech'are entirely too predictable

TV premiere

September 18, 1991|By Michael Hill

THE INTO-the-past orientation of this new TV season continues tonight as Redd Foxx shows up in the rearview mirror.

This is not some new, improved Redd Foxx. This is not a sudden discovery of overlooked dramatic talent hidden by years of stereotyped comedy.

No, this is the same old Redd Foxx, actually a bit older. If you liked him in "Sanford & Son," you'll probably like him in "Royal Family," his new CBS comedy that premieres tonight at 8 o'clock on Channel 11 (WBAL).

He's still gruff and rough and full of bile, this time spouting all sorts of allegedly humorous euphemisms for the bad words he wants to use.

The reason he can't use them is not only that he's on television, but also that he's in an 8 o'clock time period. And that means there are kids around, not only out in the audience, but also on the set.

"Royal Family" is nothing if not a carefully constructed show. Foxx plays Al Royal, an Atlanta fireman ready to enjoy his retirement with his wife, Victoria, played by Della Reese.

Then, lo and behold, their daughter, Elizabeth, shows up, having left her husband and planning to go back to school to get herself on her own two feet. That means Grandma and Grandpa get to look after her three youngsters, two teen-agers and a 4-year-old.

Al doesn't think too much of this, as he makes clear every chance he gets. But if you don't think the cute face of a 4-year-old will melt that old cold heart of his, then you don't know the type of stuff that's been going through the ratings roof for ABC on Friday nights for the last few years.

You've got Foxx to be gruff, Reese to be lovable and leavening while still standing up to him, a couple of teen-agers who think they're hip but will learn lessons from the old man, and a little kid to push the cute button. Each is designed to be appealing to a different demographic group in the targeted audience. It's perfect!

A little too perfect, in fact. "Royal Family" is just a bit of prime-time contrivance. The writing is mundane, and the characters are just toting in the set-ups so Foxx can deliver his predictable punch lines.

Those punch lines do contain some laughs, but they give you little reason for wanting to get to know this "Royal Family." Charles and Di, maybe, but not Al and Victoria.

Hey, Al and Victoria. Royal family. Get it? Prince Albert and Queen Victoria? Pretty funny, huh? Well, that's about the level of humor of the whole show.

* "Teech," another CBS comedy, has got to be one of the biggest disappointments of the new season. This is from the same production team -- Norman Steinberg and David Frankel -- responsible for "Doctor, Doctor,"

that inventive comedy that starred Matt Frewer.

But, while "Doctor, Doctor" found its life out on the edge, "Teech," which premieres tonight at 8:30 on Channel 11, gets bogged down in the middle.

The premise is "Fresh Prince Goes to School." Teech Gibson is a music teacher who was laid off from the Philadelphia school system and hired by the exclusive Winthrop Academy because, the headmaster tells him with a lack of subtlety that's endemic in the show, the school's affirmative action program required it.

Of course, he'll show them. Teech will walk to the funky beat of his own drummer but still get to the finish line before all those guys marching to Mozart.

Within moments, you are introduced to this show's version of "Welcome Back, Kotter's" sweathogs, four white preppies cut from various bolts of cliched comedy cloth. Then there's the beautiful Asian-American administrator whose job is to walk aroundwith extremely short skirts atop her extremely long legs so that jokes can be made about adolescent sexuality. The headmaster is from a long line of bumbling television bosses who are destined to be upstaged by their hired help.

"Teech" is at its rare best when it showcases the many talents of its appealing star, Phill Lewis. Maggie Hahn is the administrator and Steven Gilborn the headmaster.

The show is at its worst when it tries to deliver its message of the week because the subtext has Gibson admiring the rebellious attitude of this featured quartet, siding with them in their resistance to authority while supposedly guiding them in a more appropriate fashion.

"Teech" seems to forget that, while sometimes teachers can be your friend, that's not their job. They're supposed to be your teachers.

The high point of the show is the theme song by B.B. King, who guest stars in next week's episode. It's downhill from there.

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