October 01, 2009

TV: Hank (ABC, Wed 8)

Why do Kelsey Grammer's sitcoms always begin with him returning home?

Frasier Crane was coming back to Seattle from Boston; news anchor Chuck Darling (in Back to You) was returning to Pittsburgh after humiliating himself on Los Angeles TV; and here, ex-CEO Hank Pryor leaves New York and returns to River Bend, Virginia, where he founded his first store and met his wife. (With The Cleveland Show, that's two "back home to Virginia" shows in one season.)

Hank and Tilly (Melinda McGraw) have two kids -- eccentric 9-year-old Henry (Nathan Gamble) and grumpy teen Maddie (Jordan Hinson, playing younger, dumber, and louder than she did on Eureka); Tilly's the only one who's remotely happy about going back home, and even she'd be happier if they were returning with some of the money they used to have.

Tilly's brother Grady (David Koechner) is delighted to see them, though, especially because he gets to gloat over Hank's collapse. He's a contractor, and clearly one of the show's running jokes will be his semi-incompetent attempts to get their new home up to standard. He's an uncomfortably broad hick caricature, and he doesn't fit with the relatively realistic tone set by the rest of the characters (realistic by sitcom standards); it's as if Mr. Kimball from Green Acres suddenly appeared on the set of Home Improvement.

Home Improvement is very much the type of show we have here -- bumbling dad who's not that good at the family stuff, mom who runs things, adorable sitcom kids -- and if you like that sort of thing, it's done tolerably well here. Grammer is still (as always) playing another slight variation on Frasier -- pompous, out of touch, self-important, but well-intentioned -- but it's a role that he plays to perfection with surprising nuance.

Hardly essential TV, but not the disaster that many of the critics have made it out to be, either.

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