FLESH N' BLOOD" might be set in Baltimore, but if this new NBC comedy makes it, it's because its roots go into fertile soil much farther south of the Mason-Dixon line.
Indeed, "Flesh n' Blood," which gets a send-off tonight at 10 o'clock before settling into its 9:30 p.m. Friday time slot tomorrow, could easily be titled "The David Keith Show."
That's because as the character of Arlo Weed, Keith picks up every line he is given and takes off with it like a wide receiver on an end-around playing for Keith's beloved University of Tennessee Volunteers football team.
Keith is from Tennessee, and he flies home every weekend for his alma mater's games. Weed is from Florida. He arrives in Baltimore, two children in tow, and presents himself to Rachel Brennan, the city's young, ambitious state's attorney, as her long-lost brother.
It seems that Brennan was given up for adoption as an infant and went on to have a fine upbringing. But lately she has had a hankering to find out about her natural mother. Just when that investigation seemed to have run into a dead end, Arlo shows up.
He is portrayed as a con man who had just come from selling Bibles autographed by Moses. Though that makes the audience think that he might be conning his way into Rachel's good graces, the show's producers have made it clear that such is not the case. These characters are brother and sister.
The inevitable complications result from this deep-fried catfish flopping around in Crabtown as Rachel debates whether or not she should let her desire for contact with her real family endanger her potential political career. By the end of tonight's half hour, she decides to let Arlo and his brood stay on in her Bolton Hill townhouse, setting up our odd couple familial relationship.
Rachel is played by Lisa Darr, one of the dozens of tall, attractive, competent and basically unknown actresses who show up in new series every fall. But she is really just a prop for Keith and his antics. Think of Pam Dawber's role on "Mork & Mindy" and you'll get the idea.
Indeed, about the only people competing with Arlo for laugh lines are his kids with horse names -- 16-year-old son King, played by Chris Stacy, and 12-year-old daughter Beauty, played by Meghan Andrews.
The show will come in for the inevitable criticism about stereotyping Southern characters, making everyone who talks with a drawl look like a rube and a yokel.
It's not justified in this case. So far, at least, Arlo stays on the right side of the line that separates unsophisticated from stupid, though it does cross it at times with the depiction of King, whose three-way bulb seems to be stuck on dim.
But, if you look closely, you'll notice that despite Arlo's aw-shucks style and penchant for taking a few comments a bit too literally, nobody gets the drop on him. He holds his own just fine, thank you. Indeed, he's a much more attractive character than Rachel's uptight, incompetent assistant, Marty, played by Perry Anzilotti.
Arlo might not be the most attractive weed ever to sprout in prime time, but he's the one who makes you laugh on "Flesh n' Blood." And, in a comedy, that's a right smart thing to do.
* It's probably the show on Fox's schedule most critical to that network's success this season. Yet it is unavailable for advanced screening by TV critics. Not a good sign.
That would be "Drexell's Class," the return of Dabney Coleman to sitcomland. In this, he plays a man who is paying off his community service for tax fraud by teaching fourth grade. Or he's paying off his tax debt. Or something like that. When last heardfrom, the show was still in flux.
"Drexell's Class," which premieres tonight at 8:30 on Channel 45 (WBFF), is the most ambitious attempt yet to hang onto the audience of "The Simpsons." There was no pilot on the show, just what's known as a presentation tape, which proved what was already well-know, that Coleman can be irascible with the best of them, this time with a bunch of youngsters.
The potential is there for a good show. But it's already on its third title -- "Shut Up, Kids" and "Oh, No, Not Drexell" were the first two -- and has been significantly re-cast. So it could be a slapped-together, last-minute mess. Or it could be a worthy showcase for Coleman's considerable talents at playing characters with a barbed-wire edge. We'll all find out tonight.
As for the show that precedes it, the season premiere of "The Simpsons" is a predictably hilarious half hour in which Homer finds himself committed to a mental institution, sharing a room with a 300-pound white guy who thinks he's Michael Jackson. Of course, Homer has never heard of Michael Jackson.
Most of the pre-show hype has been over the possibility of Jackson's involvement. Did he do the voice and sing the songs? Fox says that contractual problems forbid releasing that information. It probably is Jackson, but, more important, it's Bart and Homer and Marge and Lisa and Maggie, back with us in first-run episodes.
And, don't forget that "Murphy Brown" was not the only show to leave off in the spring with a pregnancy cliffhanger. On "Cheers," Sam and Rebecca had decided each was the other's last best hope for creating progeny.
NBC made tonight's season premiere, which will be on Channel 2 at 9 o'clock, available for preview but basically asked that the plot not be revealed. Suffice it to say that not everything is as resolved as well as it was in the first "Murphy Brown."
Actually, it's not a great episode of this great show, which often seems to bog down a bit when it is forced to move its plot along. Still, something seems right with the world when you see Norm back on the bar stool.