Two new sitcoms follow an old formula


Two new sitcoms are unveiled by ABC tonight -- and if that fact doesn't exactly send you scurrying with anticipation to your TV set, maybe it's because "Joe's Life" and "Grace Under Fire" are the 16th and 17th new sitcom premieres of the season. And the season began officially only last week. Be that as it may: of tonight's two, one is worth watching, and it isn't "Joe's Life."

* "Country Music Association Awards" (8 to 11 p.m., WBAL, Channel 11) -- These are the 27th annual awards, and the event has gotten so big, and so uptown, that there aren't even any "fun" song titles any more. The closest this year is Pam Tillis' "Cleopatra, Queen of Denial," and that's up only for best music video -- partly because The Nashville Network shows it about every seven minutes. On tonight's three-hour show, though, expect live performances by Garth Brooks, Mary-Chapin Carpenter, Reba McEntire, and co-hosts Clint Black and Vince Gill. CBS.

* "Joe's Life" (8:30-9 p.m., WJZ, Channel 13) -- A hectic household. Three kids. Where have we seen this before? Just about everywhere this season, and usually in much better shape than this. The script isn't funny at all, and it traps two people who are much better suited to drama than comedy: Peter Onorati, who did such intense work on "Civil Wars" and "Cop Rock," and Mary Page Keller, the sitcom actress whose best work in recent years has been in dramatic telemovies. Since there are no discernible laughs in the pilot of "Joe's Life," maybe BTC they both thought it was a drama. ABC.

* "Grace Under Fire" (9:30-10 p.m., WJZ, Channel 13) -- Brett Butler is very sharp and funny as a stand- up solo act, but that hasn't stopped ABC from diluting her stage persona and cramming it into this season's mandatory sitcom mold: hectic household, three kids. But Ms. Butler has what it takes (including good timing and a devastating drawl), and gets off some good lines, and has a terrific co-star in former "SCTV" regular Dave Thomas, who plays a potential suitor. And there's a bonus appearance by John Goodman as a traffic cop in the pre-credits sequence, which doesn't hurt. ABC.


* "The Larry Sanders Show" (10-10:30 p.m., HBO) -- Howard Stern guest stars on this episode, which starts out funny, but ends with a very surprising cliffhanger twist -- one too surprising to ruin by providing even a hint.

* "Brett Butler: The Child Ain't Right." (10-10:30 p.m., SHO) -- You'd call this clever programming by Showtime, but this time it's purely accidental.

This repeat of Brett Butler's stand-up comedy special was scheduled long before President Clinton's address last week bumped the premiere of Ms. Butler's "Grace Under Fire" to tonight. At any rate, by switching from ABC to Showtime after that sitcom is over, you can see her in two different arenas, and decide for yourself how funny she is. My vote: very.

RF David Bianculli is the author of "Teleliteracy: Taking Television

Copyright © 2021, The Baltimore Sun, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication | Place an Ad