NBC expects a lot of kidding around

`Tracy Morgan Show' relies on big laughs from littlest character

December 02, 2003|By David Zurawik | David Zurawik,SUN TELEVISION CRITIC

One of the small bits of progress network television seemed to have made during the last two decades was the disappearance of family sitcoms featuring incredibly precocious kids. Remember Arnold Jackson (Gary Coleman) of the 1978 NBC sitcom Diff'rent Strokes, or Webster Long (Emmanuel Lewis) of the 1983 ABC sitcom Webster?

Well, they're back in the form of 7-year-old Jimmy Morgan (Bobb'e J. Thompson) in the new NBC sitcom The Tracy Morgan Show. How much viewers like or dislike the series will probably depend on how they feel about sitcom kids.

The character of Jimmy is only one part of a sitcom family that includes husband and wife Tracy (Tracy Morgan) and Alicia (Tamala Jones), plus their two sons, 13-year-old Derrick (Marc John Jeffries) and Jimmy. But the producers clearly think they have a breakout character in the 7-year-old, and have put the child front and center spewing utterly improbable lines.

In the pilot, dad finds out at breakfast that Jimmy will be picking out a musical instrument and joining the band later that day at school.

"What instrument you picking?" Dad asks.

"I don't know. I was thinking flute," Jimmy replies.

Forget the flute, Dad says, using much cruder language. Then he adds, "You're going to get something big like a cello. What's the sense of being cultured if people can't see it?"

"You want people to see that I'm cultured?" the child replies loudly. "Then why don't you strap me to a grand piano and roll me down the street?"

After five minutes with this kid and the Morgan family, I was thinking someone had strapped me in a time capsule and rolled me back to the bad old days of the worst '70s sitcoms. Ten minutes and I was hoping someone would strap me to a big screen TV and roll me down the freeway into oncoming traffic.

The Tracy Morgan Show premieres at 8 tonight on WBAL (Channel 11).

`Line of Fire'

ABC's new crime drama Line of Fire wants to be like HBO's The Wire and The Sopranos. Dream on, ABC.

The show's primary structure of shifting back and forth between law enforcement officers and the criminal organization they are trying to bring down is borrowed (I use the word kindly) directly from The Wire. Law enforcement in Line of Fire mostly means FBI agents in the Richmond, Va., field office rather than Baltimore cops and federal agents in the Baltimore office as is the case with The Wire. But beyond that small difference, it's borrow, borrow, borrow.

The feds in Richmond are trying to bring down crime boss Jonah Malloy (David Paymer). He's the Tony Soprano figure, looking and acting much like an upper-middle-class businessman might - except for sudden acts of shocking violence. He has a crew of wiseguys and an informer who has infiltrated his organization - just like Tony.

The pilot opens with one of Malloy's men shooting a federal agent and then getting killed himself as the dying agent fires off one last round. The Wire would have taken the time to get inside the two cultures by showing us how they mourn and bury their dead.

But that kind of depth and anthropological edge - two of the very things that distinguish The Wire - seem to have been lost on creator Rod Lurie, who gives us only a bit of the funerals and quickly moves on to introduce an overly large ensemble of mostly forgettable characters. Line of Fire is just one more reason to get HBO.

Line of Fire premieres at 10 tonight on WMAR (Channel 2).

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