Moore is less in 'Dudley' premiere

April 16, 1993|By David Zurawik | David Zurawik,Television Critic

Didn't he used to be Dudley Moore?

That's the question some viewers might ask about the short guy with the British accent in "Dudley," which premieres at 8:30 tonight on WBAL (Channel 11).

The unfortunate answer is that the star of this new CBS sitcom is, indeed, Dudley Moore, and he has come to this.

Watching Moore sleepwalk through this brain-dead, father-knows-nothing role of Dudley Bristol, some viewers not familiar with Moore's early career might find it hard to believe that he was once a great comic talent.

But he was great -- back in the 1960s and '70s, when he and Peter Cook played cabarets and theaters with their brilliant two-man show. If the feature film "Arthur" was the dessert of Moore's comic career, then "Dudley" is the table scraps that the dog won't eat. Woof, woof, pass the Alpo.

Like Moore, Dudley Bristol is a pianist. He works with a bass player and drummer in an upscale cabaret in a Manhattan hotel. Think Bobby Short at the Carlyle, and you've got the picture.

Onstage, he's very smooth and charming. At home, he's a mess. He's got a Spanish-speaking maid, and he doesn't understand a word she says. He's got a demanding girlfriend who looks to be about 18 years old. He's got an ex-wife (Joanna Cassidy) who seems to be as confused a parent as he is. He's got a son (Harley Cross) who steals cars.

The big joke tonight is supposed to be that Bristol's "bachelor days" come to an end when his ex-wife returns from California, takes an apartment nearby and insists that Bristol let his son live with him so that the teen-ager can have a father figure.

The most interesting thing about "Dudley" is the way it revisits the old show-biz sitcom format of the 1950s and '60s.

This could be Danny Thomas or Joey Bishop, playing characters that share their own first names, in silly little nothing plots that vacillate between the nightclubs they work in and the apartments they share with their families.

The problem is that rather than coming off as knowingly retro, "Dudley" comes off as unknowingly knuckleheaded -- and fTC offensive in its conviction that there is something inherently funny about Spanish-speaking maids and ex-wives.

L I guess I could try to say something nice before I sign off.

OK. Moore does play the piano nicely in the opening and closing sequences. Woof, woof.

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