"Ethel Is an Elephant" is an elephant is an elephant. Anyone vaguely familiar with the history of situation comedy knows there had to be such a program eventually, and this unsold series pilot, on CBS tonight (Channel 9 at 8), was produced with a bit more finesse than many but with no more laughs than most.
Ethel is an elephant who -- oh, you know the rest. Same old thing. She's abandoned by a circus in New York and our hero, feeling his Androcles, removes a thorn from her paw and she follows him home and the landlord, a humorless grouch of a capitalist, says, just as any child would expect him to say, "You get that elephant out of here!"
Written by Larry Tucker and directed on location in New York by John Astin, "Ethel" works so hard at being sweet and gentle that it lacks weight. When the landlord sues and the case goes to court, however, Steven Peterman as a huffing and puffing young lawyer named Howard Dimitri has some pretty funny moments defending the elephant as being harmless in comparison with another four-legged resident of the same apartment building, Moosie.
Moosie is a Yorkshire Terrier. It seems he took a nip out of another tenant one day and so the lawyer can describe him to the jury as "the vicious Yorkie who maims and multilates." When Ethel herself approaches the bench, the prosecutor notes with more justification than usual in such cases, "The defense is turning this courtroom into a circus."
Todd Susman as the hero and Liberty Godshall as a veterinarian to whom he takes a shining are both very pleasant people to encounter, and the sitcom is mercifully free of shouting, if also mercilessly free of comic friction. Ethel is impeccable, even for an elephant.