"Frank's Place," as a place, can stand proudly beside such notable fictional emporiums as Duffy's Tavern and the "Cheers" bar. "Frank's Place" as a comedy harks back to a time when broadcast entertainments seemed warmer, kinder and more civilized, when TV shows were less likely to make you want to duck, scream or leave the room.
One of the very, very few distinctions of the new CBS fall schedule, "Frank's Place" gets "preview" airings tonight and next Monday night at 8 on Channel 9 before settling into its difficult regular time slot, Saturdays at 8 p.m., on Oct. 3. A comedy produced, like some others this season, without a nudging laugh track but with beaucoup laughs, "Frank's Place" is mellow, decent and adult.
Tim Reid, smooth and savvy, stars as Frank Parrish, a Boston professor who flies to New Orleans in tonight's premiere to liquidate Chez Louisiane, the Creole restaurant left him by a father who abandoned him when he was 2. Parrish's plans to sell the funky little bistro are sidetracked by the protestations of the zesty characters who inhabit the joint and by his attraction to Hanna Griffin, a local bombshell of an embalmer.
Yes, embalmer. The part is played, very appealingly, by Daphne Maxwell Reid, who is Tim Reid's wife off screen. They are an agile as well as handsome couple.
The restaurant customers and employes rally to persuade Frank to stay in New Orleans and keep the Louisiane open. They are a choice, funny, matter-of-factly interracial group: Robert Harper as Bubba Weisberger, Francesca P. Roberts as the flinty Anna-May, Frances E. Williams as venerable Miss Marie, Tony Burton as cook Big Arthur and Charles Lampkin as semisagacious bartender Tiger Shepin.
They don't seem stereotypes -- racial, sitcomic or otherwise -- and their dialogue has been written smartly and pungently by Hugh Wilson, who created the show and is executive producer with Reid. Wilson's original plan was to start the series off and leave it (as Steven Bochco and Terry Louise Fisher did with ABC's upcoming "Hooperman"), but he was induced to stay on.
Is it a "black show"? No, it's a people show. And a place show. The people and the place have a piquancy and depth novel for TV comedy.
One is compelled to wish Wilson, Reid and "Frank's Place" long and happy days together, in part because their show is almost shockingly gentle in its approach. It's also unusually meticulous in detailing a flavorful, exotic milieu. The Cajun and jazz music on the sound track are among the endearing features.
At first encounter, the slices of life in "Frank's Place" seem thin, maybe even soft, but when the show is over, you realize you've seen something fresh and daring -- albeit daring in a sly, underplayed way. Maybe "Frank's Place" will be unable to compete on a field now so dominated by the loud and the raucous (and the Saturday kiddy hour time slot seems particularly inappropriate), but as the charms of the Louisiane sneak up on Frank Parrish, so the charms of this show may sneak up on viewers.
How easy it is to pull up a chair at "Frank's Place" and make oneself at home.