'All-American Girl': culture-clash cliche

September 14, 1994|By David Zurawik | David Zurawik,Sun Television Critic

Margaret Cho's "All-American Girl" proves that having a funny stand-up comedian as your star does not guarantee you'll have a funny sitcom.

Cho is funny; the pilot for "All-American Girl," which premieres at 9:30 tonight on WJZ (Channel 13), is not. And this does not look like a series that can be fixed.

The premise is a rigid one that leaves little room for finessing. Cho plays a young, hip, Korean-American college student -- with the emphasis on American, right down to her Valley Girl whine.

But she lives with her immigrant Korean-American parents. Here the emphasis is on Korean, right down to her mother's speaking a broken English, which should take the Ethnic Stereotype of the Year Award this television season.

The humor is supposed to spring from the conflict between Cho's character, Margaret Kim, and those of her parents and grandmother -- between modern-day American and Old World values. It's supposed to.

Tonight's pilot plays to that with Margaret's dating a boy named Kyle, who works as an auto mechanic. Her mother, of course, objects to everything about Kyle, especially the fact that he is not Korean-American.

I saw the Jewish version of this in an episode of "The Goldbergs" from the 1953 TV season, and it wasn't original then. It had been done Norwegian style during the '51 season on "Mama." It's only been done about 10,000 times since.

But lack of originality is not the worst sin by far. It's that the parents and grandmother are so sadly one-dimensional that you couldn't start to believe in or care about the outcome of their conflict with Margaret. Even Mary Richards needed Ted Baxter, Lou Grant and the rest of those wonderful supporting players to make us care.

There are a couple of funny moments, but they each belong to Cho and are straight from her stand-up comedy routine, not the situation of the sitcom.

A young man whom Margaret is not interested in asks her about the perfume she's wearing.

"This is what I wore at my coming out party," she says.

"Oh, you were a debutante?" he asks.

"No, lesbian," she says.

At another point, during a heart-to-heart chat, her father tries to reassure her by saying, "I have confidence, you'll do what's right."

"Based on what?" she asks acting startled.

ABC has had a great run with female stand-up comics -- Roseanne, Brett Butler, Ellen DeGeneres. Despite its relatively easy time period, I have a feeling "All-American Girl" is going to bring that string to an end.

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