'Mr. Cooper' doesn't have to be sexist

September 22, 1992|By David Zurawik | David Zurawik,Television Critic

What would happen if you crossed "Three's Company" with "Welcome Back, Kotter," set it in the house the Seavers used to live in on "Growing Pains" and had a cast of African-American actors?

You'd have a black version of what otherwise would be one of the most formulaic and derivative TV shows imaginable. You'd have the new ABC sitcom, "Hangin' With Mr. Cooper," which premieres at 8:30 tonight on WJZ (Channel 13) in the primo-primo slot between "Full House" and "Roseanne."

It is hard to imagine many shows failing in this time spot. It is such a sure thing that ABC is able to charge $180,000 for a 30-second commercial spot during the premiere of "Hangin' With Mr. Cooper" tonight.

Of all the new shows this fall, that's second only to the $190,000 per 30 seconds of commercial time CBS was able to command last night during the premiere of "Love and War," which followed "Murphy Brown" -- the show in all of TV that commands the highest rates, $310,000 per 30 seconds, according to Advertising Age magazine.

But there is more to recommend "Hangin' With Mr. Cooper" than just its scheduling, despite all the recycling of plot, premise and even set. There are the stars -- Mark Curry, Dawnn Lewis, formerly of "A Different World," and Holly Robinson.

Curry, a stand-up comedian, plays Mark Cooper, a former college basketball star who didn't make it to the NBA but did get a college degree. He works as a substitute teacher and lives with the two women, who only took him in as a roommate so that they could afford the rent on this great house (the one the Seavers used to live in).

Curry is funny, but the real scene stealer in tonight's pilot is Lewis, one of the best physical comedians in TV. Robinson is the one with the knockout looks -- but, thankfully, the producers also let her have some smarts, instead of simply having her reprise Suzanne Somers' Chrissy role on "Three's Company."

There is still too much of the "Three's Company" shtick, with Curry lusting after Robinson and lots of stupid references to Robinson's "boobs," in case anyone out in TV Land doesn't notice for themselves.

"Hangin' With Mr. Cooper" doesn't need to be dumb or sexist. It has enough going for it to be a hit without slumming.

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