'Billy' wastes Connolly's comic talents

January 31, 1992|By Rick Kogan | Rick Kogan,Chicago Tribune

Billy Connolly is not the first and won't be the last talented performer to be spindled and mutilated by network knuckleheads.

This often-brilliant Scottish comic made his first network series foray as the replacement for Howard Hesseman during the last limp season of "Head of the Class." He returns in the title role of "Billy," a new series that is -- but for a distinctive Scottish brogue -- anything but fresh.

The most obvious model for the series -- which premieres tonight at 9:30 on ABC (Channel 13)-- are the feature film "Green Card" and the mysteriously durable "Who's the Boss?" But it also has purloined parts, jokes, settings and sentiments from any number of other sitcoms.

Connolly plays the gregarious college professor Bill MacGregor, who, having forgotten to renew his visa and faced with being deported, marries a recently divorced single mom.

Mary Springer (Marie Marshall) weds Billy to help pay the bills. He sleeps in the basement. She is not uncomfortable about having a stranger co-habiting with her young kids. There are three: two cuter-than-cute-can-be little girls (Clara Bryant and Natanya Ross) and a boy (Johnny Galecki) who, at 14, is conveniently at the age at which he is beginning to encounter the sort of puberty-prodded dilemmas that call for the advice of an older man.

"I suppose you're an expert on boys," says Mary.

"I used to be one," says Billy.

In the episodes I've seen (the premiere airs in what will be its regular time slot), Billy dispenses advice about girls and, in a section that dully dominates the second episode, the evils of smoking.

It's all derivative drivel, and already there's some sexual sparring between Billy and Mary. Although Connolly doesn't rein in his energy, it's wasted.

I would like to believe that Connolly might one day find a vehicle for his talents, or might start saying no when dumb producers come calling. But I also fear that if he keeps bulking up his TV resume with this sort of junk, eventually nobody will be interested.

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