'Me and the Boys' familiar, but welcome

September 20, 1994|By David Zurawik | David Zurawik,Sun Television Critic

"Me and the Boys" wants to be a "My Three Sons" for the 1990s.

The premise is identical: A single, middle-class dad who's a widower is trying to raise his three sons with a little help from one of the boys' grandparents.

Stand-up comedian Steve Harvey is Steve Tower, the dad in "Me and Boys," and he's not all that different in many ways from Fred MacMurray's Steve Douglas in "My Three Sons." Madge Sinclair plays grandma Mary with the same kind of soft-touch gruffness that William Frawley brought to grandpa Bub O'Casey in the 1960s.

The only major difference, in fact, is that "My Three Sons" was about a white family, while "Me and the Boys" is about an African-American one that has a crossover appeal similar to the Huxtables' on "The Cosby Show."

The comparison to "The Cosby Show" works in another way, too. Like that sitcom, there is not a lot of action or big-time drama in "Me and the Boys." Tonight's pilot, which airs at 8:30 on WJZ (Channel 13), is about Steve not wanting his middle son, William (Wayne Collins), 13, going to see a horror movie.

William goes anyway, of course, and winds up getting caught by dad. There's a lecture on honesty and responsibility, a punishment handed out, and everybody goes off to bed after a glass of warm feelings and a plate of dad's punch lines.

I'm not saying Harvey is in a league with Cosby or that the pilot for "Me and the Boys" is anywhere near the level of "The Cosby Show," or even "My Three Sons," for that matter. But "Me and the Boys" is trying to work the same territory and doesn't get off to a half-bad start tonight -- even though the pilot is a little slow and talky by sitcom standards.

"Me and the Boys" has a high-visibility time period between "Full House" and "Home Improvement." If it holds most of the huge audience from "Full House," it's a hit.

But if ratings drop off dramatically during its half-hour and then rise again for "Home Improvement," it will be gone before you can say, "Steve who?"

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