By Hank Stuever
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, August 17, 2010; C01
"Melissa & Joey": Did you miss them while they were gone?
Well, they missed you. They seem really glad to be back on a sitcom.
Whom are we even talking about? Oh, come on. Melissa Joan Hart and Joey Lawrence were teen sitcom stars in the 1990s. They were huge -- huge! She was Sabrina, the teenage witch, every Friday night. She was also Clarissa -- you know, the explaining tweenager? Ring any bells? He was the guy with the luxurious mullet who said "Whoa!" a lot when he was on "Blossom." (Are these sentences doing anything for you?)
That's all been long enough ago that the following things have happened: First of all, teenagers from the '90s are now grown-ups who pay taxes and have jobs and children in middle school. (I know some of us refuse to believe this, but it is true.) Second, that means these '90s citizens have basic nostalgia rights like anyone else. Third, and perhaps most important, there's life in Hart and Lawrence yet.
Life and ratings: A made-for-TV movie starring Hart and Lawrence on ABC Family last year got millions of viewers. So now the network has brought back Hart and Lawrence, who are both 34 (whoa!), in a sitcom called "Melissa & Joey," premiering Tuesday night, which isn't half-bad. You could do worse -- say, "Hot in Cleveland."
Hart, an unconventional beauty who was once so popular with young girls that network executives used to study her every move so they could bottle whatever magic she had, now plays a harried city council member who finds herself taking care of her teenage niece and nephew. She has to do this because her sister is in federal prison and her brother-in-law has vanished after some sort of Ponzi scheme has imploded.
Lawrence, who's taken a trip through some sort of Bowflex and balding contraption, plays one of the people who lost all his money to the missing brother-in-law. Now he's living in his Porsche, which is about to be repo'd. He hunts down Melissa at a city hall news conference, thinking she'll know where her brother-in-law is hiding. (She doesn't! Honest!)
To use some '90s slang, here's the sitch: Melissa is so busy and scatterbrained that she's failing to connect with her niece and nephew (Taylor Spreitler and Nick Robinson). Viewers, it's plain: As punishment for her success, Melissa needs a man. Or what's called a manny: someone to whip the kids into shape, lend structure, cook dinner and thump his chest. And Joe (the character drops the "y") needs a house to live in and a job.
In polite company, no one can speak up and ask: Isn't this show really just "Who's the Boss?"
So, "Melissa & Joey" are working again, and working hard, goshdarnit, for you. Your job is to sit there, numb, and remember Melissa and Joey fondly. It's all part of the long-awaited economic recovery. Think about it: Is there anything that would be nicer to have back with us than the 1990s?
Melissa & Joey
(one hour; two episodes) premieres at 8 p.m. Tuesday on ABC Family.