Rare bird Arlo Guthrie is only reason to flock to 'Byrds of Paradise'


There's Timothy Busfield of "thirtysomething" fame, a recurring role for Arlo Guthrie, Steven Bochco as executive producer, and that gorgeous Hawaiian color.

With all that, "The Byrds of Paradise," a new family drama series on ABC, sounds like something to get excited about.

Sounds like, but not really.

The scenery is pleasant to look at, the dialogue sounds important, and the characters act like they are going through heavy-duty changes. But, in the end, there's nobody or nothing here to make you care.

And it starts with such promise.

The opening scene is terrific. Sam Byrd (Busfield), a philosophy professor at Yale, and his three kids are waiting for the taxi to take them to the airport and their new life.

They are leaving their colonial dream home with the white picket fence in New Haven, Conn., because mom is dead. She was killed by a gunman at an automatic teller machine.

Sam Byrd had resigned from Yale to take a job as headmaster at a small prep school in Hawaii. He wants to give what's left of his family a new start.

We meet them as each is saying goodbye to life as they knew it. The final shot of Sam's picking up the over-tranquilized family dog and closing the door for the last time on the empty home is a knockout.

But it's all downhill from there.

The Hawaiian experience is filled with oh-so-predictable cultural misunderstandings, much missing of mom and lots of acting out by the kids.

The one bright moment comes when Guthrie arrives to interview for the job as housekeeper at Byrd's home. Guthrie, 46, looks about 66.

His character, Alan Moon, says he's never cared for kids, but he did have a thriving pot farm "before the feds busted it."

Moon also says he thinks caring for "the little buds" of marijuana was good training to care for kids. He doesn't get the job, but he will appear from time to time.

Outside of that, though, there's not much to this show. The script is not exactly tedious. But 40 minutes into it, you are still getting exchanges like this one between Byrd and his 11-year-old son, Zeke (Ryan Sean O'Donohue):

Zeke: "I miss mom."

Byrd: "I do, too, son. I do, too."

Zeke likes to fight. But he lets the Hawaiian kids beat him up and take his clothes, because he made dad a promise he would stop fighting when they got to their new home. Right.

The two teen-agers, 16-year-old Harry (Seth Green) and 15-year-old Franny (Jennifer Love Hewitt), made no such promises. They simply hate Hawaii and want to return to New Haven and be with their friends. Next week, Franny starts therapy with a counselor played by Bruce Weitz, of "Hill Street Blues."

I think this is Bochco's revenge on ABC and the viewing public for all the flak he caught over the sex and violence in "NYPD Blue" this fall.

There's no sex or violence that's going to upset anyone in "The Byrds of Paradise." There's also no reason to watch tonight except to check out Guthrie and wonder where the years went.

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