'Martin' needs more story and less reliance on the star

August 27, 1992|By David Zurawik | David Zurawik,Television Critic

"Martin" has energy, edge, attitude and one of the greatest time periods in all of television, 8:30 Thursday nights between "The Simpsons" and "Beverly Hills, 90210."

That might be enough to declare the sitcom, which premieres tonight on WBFF (Channel 45), one of the hits of the new season before the new fall season even officially begins. But tonight's pilot, which will be followed by the premiere of "The Heights" instead of "90210" for one week only, seems to have something missing.

Or, maybe, it's a matter of having too much of something, too much room for comedian Martin Lawrence's considerable talent to run wild and not enough story, structure or sitcom writing.

In "Martin," Lawrence plays a twentysomething, Detroit radio talk-show host named Martin. He's flip, hip and very much in love, it would appear, with a straight-laced junior executive in the advertising world, Gina (Tisha Campbell). The show is mostly about their relationship.

The action in tonight's pilot comes when Martin devotes one of his shows to mocking male sensitivity and proudly announces to his radio audience that when he tells his "woman to jump, she asks how high." It's a lie, of course. And Gina not only hears the broadcast, but hears it at work in the presence of her co-workers. The big scene is Gina confronting Martin about it in front of his macho friends.

The scene works because Lawrence goes from I-am-the-man-and-don't-you-forget-it-woman to baby-baby-baby-please-don't-go in a perfect split second. But the only time the rest of the half hour works is when Lawrence is doing similar comedic acrobatics. No matter how

large the talent, you simply can't rely on just one person to make a show work week after week. Just ask Jackie Mason or James Garner, who have been very good but have flopped big time in recent TV shows because it was all them and nothing else.

Not only is Lawrence in practically every frame as Martin, he also appears in drag as Martin's mother and a nosy neighbor who lives across the hall. Both characters have their moments, but they are so burlesque that they make "The Simpsons" seem positively cerebral.

Hopefully, the producers will make better use of Garrett Morris than they do in the pilot. He plays Martin's skinflint boss. If they don't get Lawrence more support, Fox could find its viewers skipping the layover in Martin's Detroit as they travel from Bart Simpson's Springfield to Brenda and Brandon Walsh's Beverly Hills on Thursday nights in Television Land.

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