At the end of the NBC movie "Sidney Shorr," Sidney the aging bachelor was left alone by his former roommates, Laurie Morgan and her 6-year-old daughter, who went off to California with Laurie's new husband. So, much of the first episode of "Love, Sidney," the series version of the movie premiering at 9:30 tonight on Channel 4, is taken up with contrived exposition designed to get the three of them back together again under one roof.
And what a roof -- Sidney has the biggest apartment in New York City, one that presumably falls under the benign protection of rent control. Sidney himself has not changed -- except that he is now on tape rather than on film, so everything looks cheerfully brighter -- and his homosexuality, of which no big thing was made in the film (but of which much was made off screen by rapacious moral reformers) has not vanished into quite the thin air predicted by spokesmen for Warner Bros. and NBC, who tried to stifle controversy over the show by saying Sidney's sexual orientation would never be mentioned again.
On tonight's premiere, Sidney, played with bounce and relish by Tony Randall, asks an actor working on a TV soap opera (amusingly titled "As Thus We Are") if he "likes girls"; the actor replies, "Doesn't everybody?" and Sidney makes a little don't-be-too-sure face. There is also a reference to "Martin," the unseen man with whom Sidney lived for a number of years.
It's better that Sidney be allowed to keep his homosexuality; at least it makes him, for television, different. If not for that, this modern variation on "One Man's Family" -- written by playwright Oliver Hailey and directed by Jay "Mary Tyler Moore Show" Sandrich -- would be just another cuddly-wuddly sitcom about a cute kid in cute straits, although warmer and less shrill than most. Sidney is a big stuffed toy to the child and a persnickety Jimminy Crickett to the little girl's rather careless mother, a part assumed for the series by the very likable and down-to-earth Swoosie Kurtz. The child, whom it would be futile to resist, is played by 6-year-old Kaleena Kiff.
Some parents may be uncomfortable with the hero-character of a family sitcom being a warmly adorable homosexual. They probably shouldn't be. The homosexual references are so fleeting and subtle that children probably won't pay any attention to them. On the other hand, it is hard to imagine the producers resisting the urge to devise an episode in which the mother must explain to the child why it is that Sidney doesn't have any girlfriends, and that could be a rewarding and inoffensive chapter of the story.
Of course, Sidney doesn't have any boyfriends, either, which complicates things a little; he appears to be on hold. Maybe Mommy will have to explain what "celibate" means.