Please, throw 'Franny' back

NEW SERIES

September 12, 1992|By David Zurawik | David Zurawik,Television Critic

"Franny's Turn," the new CBS sitcom that premieres at 8 tomorrow night on WBAL (Channel 11), is a throwback.

It's a throwback to the those sitcoms of the late 1970s that were called blue collar or ethnic comedies -- "Chico and the Man," "Sanford and Son" and "Good Times." It's also a throwback all the way back to "I Love Lucy" in some ways.

The series stars Miriam Margolyes as Franny, a middle-aged working woman whose consciousness suddenly starts rising much to the chagrin of her husband and two children -- a 15-year-old son (Stivi Paskoski) and 20-year-old daughter (Phoebe Augustine).

The blue-collar part is that Franny is a seamstress. The ethnic hook is that her husband, Dominick (Thomas Milian), is a Cuban-American. The "Lucy" touch is that Dominick sounds, thinks and acts a bit like Ricky Ricardo (Desi Arnaz) -- a bit too much for my taste. The only thing he doesn't say is, "ay, carumba" -- the stereotyping is that thick. It does give new meaning to the notion of "retro," though: a 1990s' TV character based on a '50s TV stereo type of Cuban-Americans.

"Franny's Turn" wants to be smarter than that kind of characterization suggests. What it wants to be is a feminist sitcom for pink-collar, middle-aged women. It wants the edge that "All in The Family" had, but it also doesn't want to offend.

Message to the producers: No risk, no gain. "Franny's Turn" plays it way too safe to be called edgy or considered genuinely oppositional.

In the pilot, Franny is opposed to her daughter's marrying young like she did. But, eventually, she gives her blessing to the marriage, and all is happiness in Franny's household.

Franny also confronts her husband and tells him she wants to start being "treated like a person." But, once he takes her in his arms to dance in the livingroom, all is double-dip happiness in Franny's household. She scales back her quest for personhood to saying she will no longer fetch when he calls for a bottle of beer. The big joke here is Dominick muttering under his breath in Spanish about her not getting his beer in the final scene.

The most interesting thing about "Franny's Turn" beyond its lame attempt at feminism is that it's the best the networks could do this year in terms of trying to reach the huge and untapped (for network TV) Hispanic audience. Ten minutes into it, you'll start to appreciate how out of it network TV is when it comes to addressing its audiences in terms of race or gender.

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