It says something about -- well, about something -- that the most enjoyable, least nasty new comedy series of the season so far depends on the old wheeze of two guys running around in drag. It may be ridiculous, but at least, especially compared to other new comedies, it's good-natured.
ABC's "Bosom Buddies" premieres at 8:30 tonight on Channel 7, and it pulls off the trick of being terribly obvious without seeming blatantly manufactured. There's something classic and maybe even innocent about the premise; it'll be a hard one to sustain, but it leads to bountiful hilarity in the first show.
In addition, Tom Hanks (the tall one) as Kip and Peter Scolari as Henry are two new young performers who jell every bit as neatly as, in fact more neatly than, Laverne and Shirley. Both were recruited from the New York theater, and though they hadn't been teamed before, they go together on the show like chicken and Shake 'n' Bake. Like pudding and Cool Whip. Like Mudd and Chancellor -- no, better than that .
They've perfected a manner of banter and a give-and-take that leads to push-and-shove in a brash but appealing way. They could catch on the way Robin Williams did in his first season as Mork, though ironically enough, "Bosom Buddies" may actually suffer from its "Mork and Mindy" lead-in since that show apparently has lost its grip on the American funnybone.
Their relationship is likeably, believably knock-about, and, like Williams, they and the writers spruce up the standard sitcom dialogue with scattershot pop-cultural references -- everything from Sylvia Plath to the saccharine old sitcom "Family Affair."
It also helps that, dressed up as women, each of the guys looks perfectly horrible in his own funny way -- Hanks towering and tottering around in a Jackie-pink suit, Scolari frazzled and frowsy in a high-neck gown. "How do I look?" one asks the other, only to be told, "Frankly, you're a pig."
The program may appear at first blush like an imitation of "Some Like It Hot," but at second blush it doesn't really matter. After all, men getting laughs by dressing up as women goes back further even than Uncle Miltie. For all we know, Adam might one day have accidentally donned the wrong fig leaf and sent Eve into stiches.
Henry and Kip, who work for an ad agency, wake up one morning to find thier building being torn down. Since a chubby sprite at the agency (Wendie Jo Sperber) has a crush on the short one, she offers to let the boys stay with her at -- aw, oh! -- a women-only hotel.
Another delightful complication is embodied, to say the least, by Donna Dixon, who plays Sperber's sinewy and voluptuous roomate and thus becomes further inducement for the guys to stay on at the hotel, even if it means living as women by day and men by night. True, it's ludicrous and silly, but the farcical elements seem wholesome and refreshing now, especially next to comedies riddled with cynicism and self-conscious topicality.
Producer Chris Thompson wrote the pilot show, and while much of it is ordinary, the stars and a good supporting cast make the most of it. There's an air of playfulness and joviality rare in TV comedy. When the guys first see Dixon in her leotards, one of them looks up to heaven and says approvingly, "Good job, God!"
Like the imcomparable, sometimes wonderful "Benny Hill" imported from England, "Bosom Buddies" is able to be bawdy without turning smutty. That may not be a major contribution to the welfare of the world, but given the median quality of the average new series, it's definitely worth a peep of thanksgiving.