The sins of the father

TELEVISION PREVIEW

September 04, 1993|By David Zurawik | David Zurawik,Television Critic

P.C. alert.

Fox's "Daddy Dearest" debuts tomorrow night at 9:30 on WBFF (Channel 45). And, if nothing else, it's going to send TV's political correctness thermometer straight into the red.

The sitcom stars comedian Richard Lewis as a psychiatrist whose obnoxious father, a retired used-car salesman, comes to live with him. The father is played by Don Rickles, the king of insult humor.

Lewis' character, Steven Mitchell, is already having a hard time as a recently divorced single parent trying to raise a 10-year-old son. Now, he's got the reincarnation of Archie Bunker living under his roof, too.

Part of the humor comes from the obvious Archie and Meathead roles played by Rickles and Lewis. Only, now, Meathead is a psychiatrist and he's the one paying the rent.

But, make no mistake about it, the show is really about political correctness, with Fox banking on the belief that a lot of people are tired of trying to be P.C. As over-the-hill as Rickles' act might look on paper, Fox is betting that many viewers are go- ing to enjoy hearing his put-downs in the privacy of their homes. And all kinds of people get put down by Rickles' Al Lewis character in the pilot: Arab Americans, Asian Americans, overweight people,

women and gays. Here's a sampling:

* Al walks into the living room and sees his grandson watching TV. The boy is sitting on the edge of the couch with his legs crossed so that the toes of his right foot are curled under his left ankle. "Don't sit like that or you're going to wind up doing Judy Garland impressions in the Rainbow Room," Al says.

* "Shut up, Aladdin," Al snarls at an Arab-American during a group therapy session at Steven's office. Al isn't a member of the group. He just barges in and insults everyone.

* "Here, I'll make you feel at home," he tells a Chinese-American group member, "no MSG, table 25."

Fox executives say it's all right for Al Lewis to insult people and groups this way, because every time he does it, Steven castigates him. Steven does seem to be saying over and over, "Dad, shut up," or "Dad, you're such a fool, I can't believe this."

But, as studies of viewer reaction to "All in the Family" demonstrated, the social disapproval voiced by a character like Steven or Meathead is ignored by many audience members as they delight in the offensive behavior of the Archies and Als.

Speaking of Als, the programmers at Fox have the perfect lineup slot for "Daddy Dearest," following Al Bundy and the rest of the Bundys in "Married . . . With Children."

"Daddy Dearest" is a show worth keeping an eye on this fall. The show and its ratings have the potential to be a barometer of our real feelings about political correctness.

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