Beverly Hills sitcom pins hopes on one-liners
Down and Out in Beverly Hills Fox Broadcasting, tomorrow, 8-8:30 p.m. (check local listings) Barbara is explaining how her 66-year-old mother managed to transform herself from prim, gray ladyhood to Beverly Hills chic. The feat, she points out to the household maid, required a radical cosmetic change of face.
``Oh, sort of a real life Mr. Potato Head!'' the maid observes. It's one of the caustically comic lines that pop up from time to time in ``Down and Out in Beverly Hills,'' the new entry premi`ering tomorrow in Fox Broadcasting's Saturday-night schedule. There are lots of these catchy one-liners, but too often they seem to be gags in search of a good home - clever quips that bounce off, rather than emerge from, their format.
In the new Fox series, this format finds a rich, self-made clothes-hanger mogul and his family in the pop-cultural surrealism of Beverly Hills. It's a standard sitcom effort distantly related to an ancient TV series called ``The Beverly Hillbillies'' and apparently not much closer to the recent movie the series gets its title from.
The Fox version includes a derelict whom the family has taken in. He was the central figure in the film, according to reviews, but so far in the TV show he's largely just a catalyst and sounding board for the family - as well as being seen rescued from the family swimming pool in a weekly introductory sequence. In fact, the only performer common to both film and TV is Matisse, an appealing black-and-white dog who can do aerobic dances and other quasi-human feats. When the son of the family is grounded and then tries to slip out, Matisse drags him back into the house by the pants leg. And in the following show (Aug. 1), Matisse plays backgammon with the house hobo - even shaking the dice cup when his turn comes.
What the series also offers - besides the good gag lines - are some intensive human moments that define the first two shows' story lines. This Saturday the family's college-age daughter - who takes up with an aspiring young felon so her family will ``notice'' her - has a nice scene with her parents. And next week, when Barbara's sedate mother suddenly adopts the Beverly Hills life with a vengeance - there is at least one exchange between them with the kind of seriocomic human chemistry a sitcom needs.
Yet these touches - and the dog act - do not really salvage a series that is often adroitly written and sporadically ingratiating but is also unremarkable in its family setting and personal interactions. But it has its moments, and there are always those gags - like the husband's line in the Aug. 1 show when he finds a spiritual ``channeler'' carrying on a seance in his living room: ``That's his big talent? Reciting dialogue from `Kung Fu'?''