The '80s mistreated in sorry Fox sitcom

Preview: Plot development for `That '80s Show' rests on women's bosoms.

January 23, 2002|By David Zurawik | David Zurawik,SUN TELEVISION CRITIC

After watching Fox's That '80s Show, I'm convinced that somewhere in Hollywood, there's a guide for really bad sitcom writing. One major rule is that whenever you have nothing funny to say, just have a characters talk about breasts.

I can think of no other explanation for all of the allusions to that body part in the pilot for this drippy, insipid, sorry excuse for a sitcom from the producers of That '70s Show. Two of the four leading female characters make emphatic reference to their breasts, while three of the five leading male characters also talk about women's breasts. There is no single topic more mentioned in the pilot.

Usually, that quotient of breast references indicates a series aimed at adolescent boys - the last audience who find the word automatically funny, I hope. But, since a 15-year-old today would have been only 4 or 5 years old when the '80s ended, how much would he remember about it? But that's the point: The less the viewer really knows about the '80s, the better, because the show isn't really about the '80s. It's about breasts.

Corey (Glenn Howerton) and Katie (Tinsley Grimes) are a brother and sister in their 20s living in San Diego circa 1984 with their dad, RT (Geoff Pierson), a marketing executive. Mom is blown off in an opening remark in which Dad describes the two years since their divorce as the happiest of his life.

Katie is a college dropout trying to launch a business making candles, while Corey is a musician who seems out of step with the commercialism of the decade. (Actually, that's a bit of an overstatement. The pilot is so inconsistent that sometimes Corey seems out of step, and sometimes he doesn't. I'm trusting that the writers wanted to make him out of step, because then you would at least have comic possibilities, if not actual comedy.)

Corey's best friend, Roger (Eddie Shin), is dedicated to getting rich. Corey works at a record shop run by a 1960s burnout, Margaret (Margaret Smith). Besides jokes about Margaret's breasts, there's a running gag about all the musicians she has slept with. Corey's new co-worker is Tuesday (Chyler Leigh) - all leather, attitude and punk hair-do. And, of course, breasts, which she says make her a better salesperson than Corey.

They hang out at the Club Piranha, a nightclub where Corey's ex, Sophia (Brittany Daniel), reigns. Sophia's breasts are not referenced, but then the series opens with her telling Corey that she's a lesbian, and kissing Katie.

That and the music of the Go-Go's, Elvis Costello and Michael Jackson is what the '80s were all about, according to Fox.

Oh, Ronald Reagan is mentioned, but not in the sense of a president carrying out a silent social revolution that dismantled majors parts of Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal and Lyndon Johnson's Great Society.

No, here Reagan's mentioned while Roger, Eddie and Katie watch Dynasty, a popular '80s prime-time soap opera, and play a game in which they down a shot of scotch each time one female character slaps another. After the fifth straight shot of booze, Corey says he's going to take a job in marketing, and Eddie screams: "Welcome to Reagan's America. God bless you, Ronnie."

I'm not sure what the reason is for the Reagan benediction. But it makes as much sense as most of the breast references.

And isn't it enlightened of Fox to air That '80s Show at 8 p.m. - the very time when the youngest viewers are watching?

God bless you, Rupert.

Tonight's TV

What: That '80s Show

When: 8 tonight on WBFF (Channel 45)

In brief: A drippy, insipid excuse for a sitcom.

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