There's no cure for 'The Trouble with Larry'

TELEVISION PREVIEW

August 25, 1993|By David Zurawik | David Zurawik,Television Critic

Could Bronson Pinchot's career actually have peaked as Cousin Balki on "Perfect Strangers"?

That's only one of the questions adult viewers may ask after watching CBS' first new fall series "The Trouble With Larry," which premieres at 8 tonight on Channel 11 (WBAL).

Other questions may include:

How did this sitcom (using the word in its most expansive sense) ever make it on the CBS fall schedule?

Is that Perry King or a man on Thorazine playing opposite Pinchot?

Will "The Trouble With Larry" be the first or second show of the new season to get canceled?

"The Trouble With Larry" seems like one of the silliest sitcoms of the season.

The premise is a spouse who was presumed dead shows up alive years after the widow or widower has remarried and started a new life. It worked fine for Cary Grant and Irene Dunne in the 1940 film "My Favorite Wife."

Here the roles are reversed and it's the husband, played by Pinchot, who shows up 10 years after his wife, played by Shanna Reed, has remarried. King portrays (using the word in its most generous sense) her new husband, Boyd. There's also a 10-year-old daughter, played by Alex McKenna.

The backstory, as they say in Hollywood, is that Larry Burton (Pinchot) was dragged from his tent by baboons during his African honeymoon with Sally (Reed). She thought he was killed, but he survived the baboon attack by singing opera to the beasts. He has been living the life of an adventurer and sailing around the world ever since.

Honest, that's the explanation. Who could make up anything this crackpot except the writer of a sitcom?

Most of the pilot is spent highlighting the contrast between Larry, the free spirit, and Boyd, the stuffed shirt. Any time left over is used for finding juvenile ways to talk about sex.

For example, Larry puts his pants in the microwave.

Why? So he can pull them out, put them on, mime the gestures of someone having an exquisite sensual experience and say, "hot dog and baked beans."

Viewers have already been cued to know what "beans" means by another exchange, which occurred earlier in a discussion of coffee, between Larry and another woman:

Larry: When I lived in Kenya, I crushed my own beans every morning.

Woman: Did you ever try wearing boxer shorts?

CBS will tell you this show is not as dumb as it appears to be. "The Trouble With Larry" will air at 8 on Wednesday nights when the network is trying to attract kids. The psychological appeal of the show for children is that most kids feel they have stuffed shirts, like Boyd, for dads, but they wish they had wacky dads like Larry. It turns out that Larry is, in fact, the 10-year-old girl's real dad.

That's a potentially powerful pull on kid viewers and answers the question of how this show ever made it on the CBS fall schedule anyway.

Based on the way it's dealt with in tonight's pilot, I think the network has underestimated the intelligence of your average 10-year-old.

On the other hand, if you find your 10-year-old's pants in the microwave tomorrow morning, CBS has a hit.

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