Dicey 'Bless This House' is going to need more than a blessing

September 11, 1995|By David Zurawik | David Zurawik,Sun Television Critic

It has a star with a serious image problem, and it tries to emulate two of the greatest television series of all time without seeming to understand either. Add a tough time period, as well as the possibility that it insults the very audience it seeks to win, and you could probably say that "Bless This House" is a doomed sitcom.

The much talked about CBS series -- which stars Andrew Clay and Cathy Moriarty as a Ralph Kramden-marries-Roseanne, blue-collar couple -- arrives tonight at 8:30 on WJZ (Channel 13) with a sneak preview after "The Nanny."

Usually, any kind of pre-air word- of-mouth on a new show is considered good news by the networks, because it helps separate the series from the clutter of other premieres. But I'm not sure if that's the case with "Bless This House" -- a series that seems to be the result of an incredible number of dumb moves.

Most of the talk has been about Clay's persona as a stand-up comedian and the coarse language that the series will be airing at 8 p.m. -- a time period once known as the Family Viewing Hour.

The persona problem for Clay is a big one. He was once known as Andrew Dice Clay. Onstage, the Diceman celebrated such behavior as the physical abuse of women.

Clay now says he was confused at the time and talks as if the Diceman were an evil being that once seized his soul but has since been exorcised by marriage and a family.

Dumb move No. 1: Hiring a guy with such baggage to star in a family sitcom, one that needs millions of female viewers to survive.

Dumb move No. 2 was making his character, Burt Clayton, such an obvious knockoff of Jackie Gleason's Kramden in "The Honeymooners." Kramden was a bus driver, Clayton is a postal worker. Kramden's wife was named Alice, Clayton's wife is named Alice.

Kramden is a character who lives on in reruns and the memories of millions of viewers. Many memories of him are fond -- Kramden, the figurative little man with big dreams that were always --ed.

But there's another Kramden that feminist critics remind us of -- the one who threatened his wife repeatedly by holding a fist in front of her face and saying, "One of these days, Alice, pow, straight to the moon." Memories of that Kramden only complicate Clay's image problem with women.

Under the heading Stupid Is As Stupid Does, Clayton does something in tonight's pilot that canceled any sympathy I might have had for this character.

The plot revolves around the Claytons -- with their two kids, ages 7 and 12 -- feeling the need to move out of their apartment and into a house. But even though both Burt and Alice work full-time, he doesn't feel they can afford a house.

Finally, after a big fight, he agrees to go house-hunting. The one home they visit turns out to be a mansion shown to them by a snotty Realtor.

So far, OK. Buying a home is an excellent plot device for a blue-collar comedy. Nothing drives home your social-class status like the Realtors, bankers and credit reviews.

But, why in the world did they have Burt and Alice try to buy this mansion? And why did the producers think I'd feel sorry for Burt and Alice when they were rejected by the bank? Instead of identifying with the characters, I was left wondering how they could be so stupid as to think they'd ever get a loan. A lot of viewers are going to feel the same.

There are more problems. I don't think, for example, we need to hear every locker-room term for breasts in the first half hour of a new show. I also think someone needs to explain to the producers why Roseanne Connor is a shrewd social commentator, while Alice Clayton is mainly a shrew.

In the end, viewers will probably accept or reject the show solely on how they feel about Clay; it's probably no more complicated than that.

As for me, I say a pass on "Bless This House."

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