Wendt's new show is devoid of cheer

March 08, 1995|By David Zurawik | David Zurawik,Sun Television Critic

If you have ever stood around for hours in a service garage waiting for your car to be repaired, you have a pretty good idea of what watching "The George Wendt Show" on CBS is like.

The new sitcom, which premieres at 8 tonight on WJZ (Channel 13), features Wendt as a car mechanic in business with his brother. It is only slightly more interesting than watching someone change the oil in your car.

Not only did I not laugh once, I didn't even smile once. And I was a fan of Norm-at-the-end-of-the-bar-Peterson in "Cheers."

Based very loosely on "Car Talk," the National Public Radio show starring Ray and Tom Magliozzi, "The George Wendt Show" has fewer laughs per half-hour than the car-repair radio show. And, at least with the Magliozzis, you learn where the oil pan is located on a 1964 Studebaker.

Wendt plays George Coleman -- garage owner, radio show co-host and lapsed Catholic -- living in Madison, Wis. The lapsed Catholic business is very big in the pilot. Pat Finn -- who, like Wendt, is an alum of Chicago's Second City -- plays his brother, Dan.

Tonight's pilot is mainly about how far the two have lapsed as Catholics. George is recently divorced, and both he and Dan have been known to place bets. (It's been a while since sin seemed quite this boring.)

The two attend a parish "casino night" intended to raise money to help poor children go to summer camp. They attend the event out of guilt, since the parish priest has been by to check up on the divorced man and his wayward brother. Of course, neither has been to church since the Norman Conquest.

They go, they gamble, they win.

And, now they have more guilt. They're taking money out of the hands of poor children and elderly nuns -- one of the very nuns who used to lift Dan off the ground by his eyebrows, according to one especially tedious recollection from Dan. He and George have lots of tedious recollections.

The sitcom is clearly going for the male audience that "Cheers" once owned. It's supposed to be about ordinary guys doing guy things and talking about doing more guy things. It aims to be wacky, silly and stupid. It shot too high, however.

The cast is filled out by wannabe wacky workers in the brothers' auto-repair shop. They all look like the actors who lost out in auditions for parts in the wacky, courier-service sitcom "Double Rush," which will follow "The George Wendt Show" in the new CBS Wednesday night lineup.

If CBS wasn't in such terrible shape ratings-wise, this turkey would be dumped on unsuspecting viewers in the summer when most failed series are burned off.

Wendt is a fine third or fourth wheel in an ensemble sitcom, but he's nowhere up to the task of carrying one. And that's assuming there is even the kernel of a workable sitcom here to be carried. Personally, I think that's a wild and wacky assumption.

CBS starts its second season tonight with the premiere of "The George Wendt Show," and the buzzards are already starting to circle over the carcass of the network's prime-time schedule.

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