Mush for the mind: Simple sitcoms land in lineups


Those of us who get paid to watch and write about television take heart when quality dramas and smart comedies, of all things, become the hot trends in the medium.

I may believe, for example, that "ER" has been overpraised, but its huge ratings encourage networks to schedule other quality dramas.

TV critics can point to the attempts to copycat "Friends," but even poor copies of this show are quantum leaps beyond the empty-headed sitcoms that spread across prime time a decade ago.

And then, with visions of all this programming progress tripping merrily through your consciousness, you get whapped upside the head by "Maybe This Time" and wind up comatose on the concrete.

"Maybe This Time" premieres tonight at 9:30 on ABC after "Step by Step." Its regular slot is Saturdays at 8:30. "Maybe" and "Step," it's worth noting, are compatible: They share a determination to limit IQ scores of viewers to levels well short of triple digits.

In the new show, Marie Osmond, Betty White and Ashley Johnson star as three generations of women living and working together in and around the cafe/coffeehouse they own and operate.

Julia (Ms. Osmond) is recently divorced, focused on the business and emotionally down. Her mental state is attributed to post-divorce blues, but the camera simply may be picking up Ms. Osmond's dismay at the direction her career has taken.

Gracie (Ashley Johnson), being a 12-year-old and this being another sausage from the Michael Jacobs/ Touchstone TV-meat factory, is cute and overly verbal.

Ms. White -- who deserves and should know better -- is mother-grandmother Shirley, who seems never to have met a man with whom she didn't sleep -- or want to. Here in a family sitcom, the notion that an older woman would be interested in sex is used purely for laughs.

For another approach to family sitcomery -- hardly ground-breaking, but at least inoffensive and occasionally amusing -- you might try "Minor Adjustments." It premieres tomorrow at 8:30 on NBC. Its regular slot is Sunday at 8:30 p.m.

The show stars stand-up comic Rondell Sheridan as Ron Aimes, a wisecracking child psychologist who has a lot more success with his young clients than he does with his own kids, ages 4 and 10.

Wendy Raquel Robinson plays Aimes' wife, Rachel, who keeps him honest and feeds him setup lines.

Additional yuks come courtesy of Aimes' office mates, a distracted dentist, a perpetually peeved pediatrician and a goofball receptionist.

You could do a lot worse.

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