In sitcom land, another fractured family

First Impressions CBS, 8-8:30 p.m. Saturday. Stars: Brad Garrett, Thom Sharp, and Brandy Gold. Producers: Fred Freeman and Lawrence Cohen. Co-producers: Frank Welker and Gordon Hunt. The family is in the spotlight in TV sitcoms just as it seems to be in politics. But traditional family units, as in ``Leave It to Beaver'' and ``The Partridge Family,'' are not quite trendy enough in these days of offbeat groupings. Witness ``Kate & Allie,'' ``Golden Girls,'' and ``Family Ties.''

Now CBS is desperately reaching for still another kind of family in its new interim summer-fall sitcom, ``First Impressions'':

A father and daughter are left to keep the home fires burning in Omaha when Mom leaves to ``find herself.''

A little late for relevance

How's that for relevance? About 10 years too late, you say? Well, TV doesn't want to be too far ahead of its audiences, you know.

In this new, very temporary sitcom, just about all Dad has going for him is height. He's 6 feet, 9 inches and covers up his inability to feel emotions with sound effects, sight gags, impressions, and, well, lots of ``tall'' jokes.

Daughter knows best

There's also a precocious daughter, far wiser than Dad, who resents Mom's departure; an overambitious business partner; and a secretary whose book-burning father thinks ``Bambi'' is subversive.

In the course of the first two episodes I viewed, just about every male/female stereotype was given a superficial airing.

In its own bubble-headed way, ``First Impressions'' manages to be offensively sexist: Dad's just a big overgrown lovable kid, and there's no attempt to understand the wife's departure.

But after coping in the first two episodes with ``lovable'' Brad's playful impressions, viewers may well understand why she left.

``First Impressions'' has a likable star in Brad Garrett. It also has a determinedly offbeat premise, and it makes a blunt try at relevance, with its villainous, callous feminist wife.

But questions of relevance aside, the series lacks a few other essential contemporary ingredients as well: taste, wit, charm, and intelligence.

Arthur Unger is the Monitor's television critic.

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