CBS 'Family Dog': a stray better left inside the kennel 'Simpsons' look-alike lacks series' bite

June 23, 1993|By David Zurawik | David Zurawik,Television Critic

Not since "Fish Police" and "Scorch" has CBS served up anything quite like "Family Dog," which premieres at 8 tonight on WBAL (Channel 11).

You remember "Fish Police," the animated show featuring fish as law enforcement officers, and "Scorch," the low-rent version of "ALF" that featured a dragon instead of an ALF.

You might also remember the millions of dollars worth of promo- tional spots for the two shows that CBS aired to great viewer irritation during the 1992 Winter Olympics and, then, how the series were canceled after only two showings when the reviews and ratings came in.

Well, as hard as it might be to imagine, "Family Dog" is even worse.

It was canceled before it even premiered. CBS is merely burning off episodes this summer and trying to recoup a few of the big bucks it paid big-name filmmakers Steven Spielberg and Tim Burton to make "Family Dog."

This is a bomb of the first order.

The show was sold to CBS three years ago, and, for three years, CBS brass has been scheduling it and then delaying its debut when they saw what Spielberg and Burton, the executive producers, were delivering.

Part of the show's problem is that it was conceived just as "The Simpsons" burst upon the scene to big ratings and critical acclaim. One of the worst things about "Family Dog" is what a blatant and, yet, uncomprehending rip-off of "The Simpsons" it is.

The animated sitcom follows the day-to-day life of a suburban family of four -- mom, dad, brother and sister -- seen through the eyes of the family dog.

The boy is Bart without any of the vulnerability -- yes, vulnerability. The father is Homer without any of the pathos -- yes, pathos.

They sound like the Simpsons, using the terms "buttheads" and "scuzbags," and continually complaining about their lot.

But, unlike the Simpsons, this family is never anything but stupid.

The series is never anything but stupid either.

Whereas "The Simpsons" is loaded with pop-culture references to news events, trends, performers and styles, so that it operates on several levels, "Family Dog" is never about anything, it seems, but the story line itself.

Tonight, it's about the dog trying to get a drink of water and this brain-dead family being too stupid to fill the dog's water bowl.

The family winds up entering the dog in a dog show while the animal is practically dying of thirst.

In the hands of James Brooks and Matt Groening, of "The Simpsons," the dog show would have been used for a funny and wise commentary on competition, social class and public embarrassment.

In "Family Dog," it only takes the half-hour from slow to tedious.

Another installment of the series will air at 8:30, immediately following the "Show Dog" episode. In the second half-hour, the dog follows the idiot family to the zoo and winds up playing hero.

Is there any reason to watch "Family Dog"?

Yes, so that when David Letterman arrives at CBS in August and starts mocking the series, you'll know what he's talking about.

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