Playing 'Bob' once too often

September 18, 1992|By David Zurawik | David Zurawik,Television Critic

Bob Newhart plays a mild-mannered guy named Bob who works with a group of wacky people and has a wife years younger than himself.

Sound familiar?

The underpinning of "Bob," the new CBS sitcom that debuts at 8:30 tonight on WBAL (Channel 11), is absolutely the same formula as "The Bob Newhart Show" and "Newhart!" -- the comic's last two sitcoms.

But in this series, all the characters are decades younger. Comic book artists on the "cutting edge," Newhart's co-workers are misfits, odd fits and no-fits at all. Bob is there because a comic book creature named Mad Dog he created 30 years before has suddenly been revived by a publisher.

The show seems created out of desperation. None of the other characters are even half drawn. As a result, none is convincing, least of all Bob's boss and chief nemesis, Harlan Stone (John Cygan). He's supposed to be everything Bob isn't -- loud, emotional, demonstrative and, yes, it must be said, young and good-looking.

Cygan, a former soap star who looks it, is called upon in tonight's opener to be both abrasive and pleading, savvy and childish, sincere and jaded -- anything to play off mild-mannered Bob, anything for a laugh.

But instead of lighting up the screen with laughter, Cygan's character seems like someone ready for institutionalization. Manic is too mild a word -- and it's no fun to watch.

This is a pilot in which the writers seem to have thrown jokes and characters against a wall, hoping some would stick. Viewers won't be laughing so much as scratching their heads. Newhart may have a third hit series in him, but this does not appear to be it unless it settles down considerably.

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