Likable 'Tom' treats blue-collar world honestly

March 02, 1994|By David Zurawik | David Zurawik,Sun Television Critic

The family is named Graham instead of Conner. They live in Kansas rather than Illinois. And they are a step or two down the blue-collar social ladder.

But, outside of that, there's not much difference between Tom Arnold's "Tom," which premieres tonight on CBS, and his wife Roseanne Arnold's "Roseanne," which airs Tuesdays on ABC.

Which means that "Tom" could be ratings gold.

Tonight's pilot is co-written and co-produced by Mr. and Mrs. Arnold. The family that writes and produces together stays together in Hitsville, USA.

It's a very funny half hour, with Tom Arnold as Tom Graham, a welder, wannabe rancher and father of five. There are at least five laugh-out-loud jokes and about two dozen smaller ones. One of the funniest comes when the Grahams' youngest son asks, with drop-dead timing, "Are we white trash?"

Not exactly, as they say in the Hertz commercials.

But the family, like Roseanne's, has real self-awareness about how poorly they are doing financially -- living in a construction trailer, next to a dump, as Tom tries to build his dream ranch for the family.

Right now, all he has is about half the foundation, which he's digging by hand.

Tom's wife, Dorothy (Alison LaPlaca), wants to go to law school in the pilot episode.

She's a substitute teacher, but, unfortunately, the Kansas teachers are a very healthy bunch, as Tom points out. Tom and his boy discuss removing lug nuts on cars in the teachers' parking lot to try and get mom some work.

While Dorothy has a college degree and was considered a real catch back in high school, it's not clear whether Tom even managed to finish the 12th grade.

He never got nominated for coolest or brightest kid in the trailer park, that's for sure.

Much of the show mines material that is at Tom's expense -- dumb things he did in the past, dumber things he did in the past. Tom is not a dolt or a jerk, but rather a guy with a good heart and not exceptional smarts trying to stay within striking distance of the bump on the bell curve.

This is a likable series that deals with social class in a bright and honest way.

Tom Arnold, despite his critics, has become a talented sitcom performer and producer.

He's also controversial, with lots of enemies in the press. It's reached the point where some of those enemies are going to rip anything he does, good or bad.

"Tom" is good. There is far too little in prime time that tries to speak to, instead of exploit, blue-collar America.

Make an appointment to see or tape "Tom" at 8:30 tonight on WBAL-TV (Channel 11) -- if for no other reason than to see what life is like a step or two down the social ladder from the Conners.

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