Insults on sitcom insult viewers

Preview: NBC's `The Fighting Fitzgeralds' doesn't bother creating humor. It hopes you'll find yelling and name-calling funny.

March 06, 2001|By David Zurawik | David Zurawik,SUN TELEVISION CRITIC

"The Fighting Fitzgeralds" is an old-fashioned, ethnic, working-class, network sitcom. That means the characters continually shout at each other, address each other with such terms of endearment as "you moron," and regularly slap each other on the back of the head.

And network television executives wonder why viewers tune out and critics are pronouncing the sitcom dead. "The Fighting Fitzgeralds" is a program that makes you wonder how anyone in management would approve spending a million dollars to develop something as old, moldering and oozing with stereotypes as this.

The marquee value belongs to Brian Dennehy ("Death of a Salesman") as patriarch of a household that includes two of his three grown sons, a daughter-in-law and grandchild. He's a retired firefighter who spends most of his time painting still-lifes when he isn't shouting, head-slapping and name-calling.

Dennehy is a talented and likable actor, but even he doesn't have the ability to give this material a pulse. And let's be honest - when I say "even he," Dennehy is a performer who plays to the level of his material. With Arthur Miller, he's impressive. But I've also seen him in more hack made-for-TV movies and failed sitcoms than I care to remember.

The big event in tonight's pilot involves one son, Patrick (Jon Patrick Walker), a 28-year-old stock broker and the apple of his father's eye, announcing that he's quit his Wall Street job and wants to move back home. Apparently, a recent promotion brought on a panic attack and made him rethink the direction of his life.

Did male characters on network TV ever have panic attacks before Tony Soprano on HBO's "The Sopranos" two years ago? I can't think of any.

Here's an example of what passes for wit and repartee in "The Fitzgeralds." It comes after the two older sons, Jim (Justin Louis) and Terry (Chris Moynihan), are told by their father to help Patrick straighten out his life.

"Hey, Pat, you want to get drunk?" Terry yells to his brother, who is in another room.

"Sure," Patrick yells back.

"That's your solution?" their father asks sarcastically.

"Well, he's sad. It's happy hour. We're Irish. Do the math, Dad," Terry says.

Here's my math: When you add such ethnic stereotyping to a stupid script, you go from being merely regressive to offensive.

Silly me, I thought NBC hit bottom in the sitcom department with "The Michael Richards Show."

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