Any resemblance between NBC's "Pump Boys and Dinettes" and the spritely Broadway show of the same name is purely in NBC's little mind. Both share a folksy, rural ambiance, but that's all. The hour-long program airing tonight (Channel 4 at 10) was a pilot project for a possible series; it features the original cast members, but it has been filtered through the unimagination of some of television's dullest minds. Claiming inspiration from Broadway, the program proceeds to prove how little inspiration television can handle. It has taken the skeleton of the Broadway play but has failed to flesh it out with believable characterizations.
Billing itself as "Pump Boys and Dinettes on Television," the show can't decide whether it's standard sitcom or filmed theater. In trying to be both, it ends up being neither. The audience, seen mostly before and after segues and commercials, doesn't look like it's having a particularly good time.
The hour is a collection of comedy sketches, musical numbers and allegedly dramatic vignettes, but it's all stitched together with a dull needle and weak thread. Since the cast is self-contained--musicians, singers and actors doubling and tripling their duties and shifting from lead to support roles at the drop of a beat or punch line--the show is curiously disjointed where it aimed to be amorphic. Having microphone stands on the set is also disconcerting, particularly when it's obvious that lip-syncing taped tracks are often used (there's a curious duet in which one party uses a mike and the other doesn't).
The setting is a small-town North Carolina gas station and its proximate diner, the Double Cupp, run by sisters Rhetta and Prudie Cupp who bear a certain resemblance to Alice. Monk and Cass Morgan are the strongest cast members, earthy and at times as salacious as TV comedy will allow. Jim Wann as the narrator-host-storyteller and Mark Hardwick as his dirt-ugly sidekick are likable, but seem inexperienced on television, their lines often delivered awkwardly. The acting, in general, is flat, but the script isn't exactly inspiring either.
Like most television that seeks the lowest common denominator and then saddles it with the least intelligent development, "Pump Boys and Dinettes on Television" sets itself up for a quick fall with a worthless script built around the search for their calendar girl.
In keeping with its schizoid personality, the show also features a guest appearance by country singer Tanya Tucker who looks like she stumbled onto the set from a toga party next door. She lip-syncs one number and then performs a pathetic trio with Morgan and Monk for a wimpy rendition of "Wishin' and Hopin' " and then she disappears. Say, who was that lady?
The show is cluttered with other mediocre versions of pop-rock and country chestnuts and all you can do is wonder why. It doesn't seem that far removed from amateur cable TV. John Foley, Hardwick, Monk and Morgan--who originated the Broadway show--are listed at the bottom of the writing credits for the television "adaptation." It's apparent that a great deal has been lost in the move from stage to mini-screen. Sounds like "Pump Boys and Dinettes on Television" ran out of gas and coffee at the same time.