Sparring spouses 'Walter and Emily' fail to land a comic punch

November 15, 1991|By Knight-Ridder News Service

The commercials for NBC's "Walter and Emily" promise that the title couple will be in the tradition of Archie and Edith and Ralph and Alice. Talk about your tough acts to follow.

But, from a career standpoint, the show's stars, Brian Keith and Cloris Leachman, don't have tough acts to follow. Mr. Keith's last series was the CBS disaster "Heartland." Ms. Leachman's last prime-time outing was the Mel Brooks flop "Nutt House" (NBC, 1989).

Can "Walter and Emily" be worse than either of those? No, but it's just as bad.

Forget about laughs. There's hardly a smile in this sitcom, which NBC will premiere tomorrow night at 8:30 (Channel 2). A far scream from Archie and Edith Bunker, Walter and Emily Collins will remind you more of a senior citizen version of Al and Peg Bundy.

Mr. Keith plays retired salesman Walter Collins, whose 38-year marriage to Emily (Ms. Leachman) is a match made in the World Wrestling Federation. The verbal skirmishing rarely stops in this case of assault-and-matrimony.

The premise here is that the sparring spouses have moved into the San Francisco home of their sportswriter son (Christopher McDonald), who has gained custody of his 11-year-old son, Zack (Matthew Lawrence), on the condition that the boy's grandparents look after him when dad is sent on out-of-town assignments.

When not pushing and shoving each other around, gruff Walter and overprotective Emily are pulling and prompting Zack in different directions.

Mr. Keith is enough of an old pro to make the lamest material come alive for a few seconds. It's difficult not to be charmed when he's coaching Lawrence on how to fake a sick cough: "Too big -- you just want to stay out of school, not out of the Army."

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