"You Take the Kids" isn't a television show, it's a tombstone. There's a nice shady spot waiting for it in the networks' burial ground.
CBS, which loves to prove TV can get worse just when you think it can't, unveils the new sitcom tonight at 8 on Channel 9. It does have two likable costars -- Nell Carter and Roger Mosley as Nell and Michael Kirkland, the working-class parents of four troublesome kids -- but this series is what nobody needs, infernally routine and, if such a thing is possible, baldly old hat.
At CBS, they hate reading the phrases "once-proud network" and "mired in third place," but the fact is, the once-proud network is mired in third place. You'd think desperate times would inspire at least nominally innovative measures. Instead they come up with more of the kind of programming the public is rejecting.
"You Take the Kids" slavishly obeys domestic sitcom cliches. It opens with the family's 14-year-old daughter Laurette (Caryn Ward) walking in on her parents just as they are about to commence lovemaking. Yes, again.
"You were doing it!" Laurette shrieks. Then she asks the immortal question: "Do you think I would look better with real large breasts?" Two tattered plot lines are thereby set in motion: the parents' attempts to find private time for sex, and the daughter's breast-enlargement quest, which consists primarily of stuffing her bra with a brother's sweat socks.
The children are nasty pests who get little discipline from the parents. The youngest, 10-year-old Nate (Trent Cameron), repeatedly snarls "idiot" at his scholarly older brother Peter (Marlon Taylor); the word is uttered so often, it becomes a sadistic taunt. Nate also ridicules his father, a school bus driver, for having a low income.
Perhaps the presence of this jeering little creep reflects the influence of Bart Simpson, but Bart is a gentleman and a scholar by comparison. Also funny.
Another of the show's lame notions of a running joke entails that most prehistoric of sitcom cliches, the nasty mother-in-law, listlessly played here by Leila Danette. Poor papa Michael must share his home with an old woman who berates and belittles him.
The fact that the Kirklands are a black family makes this crude "Amos 'n' Andy" touch offensive. And it furthers the impression that the Kirklands are a matriarchal household, with the father passive and docile. Surely an emasculated black male is the wrong image for a 1990 television show to project.
Michael asserts himself primarily in farcical or hostile ways, like saying of his mother-in-law that he wants to "wring her filthy little neck" and calling her "old prune face." Gags like this were stale in the '50s. Another poor excuse for a running joke, about the mother-in-law confusing Idi Amin with Eydie Gorme, is a wheeze of only slightly less ancient vintage.
Big Nell teaches the lessons in the house (and teaches piano in the parlor), although the lessons are mere platitudinous banalities. She tells one son, who got involved with a kid peddling stolen stereos, "There is no such thing as easy money." Oh but there is. The people who produce sitcoms like this are making it.
"You Take the Kids" was created by Paul Haggis and Stephen Nathan as a vehicle for Carter, but it's a vehicle with four flat tires even before Carter gets into it. The show also represents a giant step down for the production company, MTM, which made it in association with CBS Entertainment and which in better days produced TV classics like "The Mary Tyler Moore Show."
Of all the terrible sitcoms to premiere this year, "You Take the Kids" takes the cake.
'Judy Garland Christmas' "What's happening?" asks Liza Minnelli. "We're on television," says her mother, Judy Garland. The operative ruse of "The Judy Garland Christmas Show" was that the lavish, sleek set in a studio at Television City was supposed to be Garland's living room, and the guest stars were neighbors who just happened to drop by for a song and a sip of eggnog.
What a nice idea.
Many a holiday special in the '50s and '60s used this gimmick, but "The Judy Garland Christmas Show," which first aired in 1963 on CBS, had something the others lacked. Judy Garland. Retrieved from the archives for a rare airing tomorrow night at 9 on the Disney Channel, Judy's show is a certifiable sweetheart, as was Judy.
The Christmas show begins a Disney Channel retrospective of highlights from Garland's Sunday night variety hour, one of the most honorable flops in TV history. CBS took a risk putting Garland up against NBC's monster hit "Bonanza," and when the ratings proved humdrum, there was beaucoup bloodletting behind the scenes and in network executive suites.
Many of the tribulations and shenanigans are detailed in a new book, "Rainbow's End: The Judy Garland Show," by Coyne Steven Sanders, who seeks to undo some of the damage done Garland's reputation in previous books about the twilight of her career. She died in 1969.
Sanders devotes a few pages to the Christmas show, which many, including Garland, thought was one of her best. She doesn't get a chance to be very funny, as she did on other installments of the series, but the hour is rich with seasonal music and the incomparable Garland charisma. The production has a casual elegance that holds up well.
Garland welcomes children from two marriages to her artificial living room: Liza Minnelli, then 17; Lorna Luft, 11; and Joey Luft, 9. Garland's maternal pleasure in her kids is unmistakable and endearing. As Joey very shakily sings "Where Is Love?" from "Oliver!," there's a shot of Garland watching him adoringly -- thus succinctly answering the musical question.
Also dropping by are Jack Jones (in a shiny, shiny suit with tiny, tiny lapels), the Peter Gennaro dancers (done up as Keystone Koppish Santa Clauses) and hammy Mel Torme, later the author of an anti-Garland book and just then beginning, says Sanders, a feud with the star.
If things look tense when the two team for Torme's "The Christmas Song," they really were. Judy mildly muffs a couple of words and Torme calls out, sarcastically, "Close!" Later, Garland replaces the line "if reindeer really know how to fly" with "if rainbows really know how to fly," and the gaffe, according to Sanders, was intentional.
Rainbows? Oh yes, of course; Judy sings "Over the Rainbow" to Joey and Lorna as the show's finale. Joey starts to talk in the middle of it and Judy gives him a squeeze to quiet him down.
Garland's series was taped in black-and-white and, unlike today's taped shows, basically in one stretch, as if it were a live broadcast. The spontaneity, which includes an occasional minor blooper, has been preserved; the show is still fresh after 27 years in the can.
Unfortunately, the preview tape submitted by the Disney Channel was marred by a harshly distorted audio track. A Disney spokesman insisted yesterday that the version to be cablecast will sound better.
In addition to the traditional and nontraditional songs on the program, Garland sings a little of what was called "special material" written for her. As the Christmas show makes clear yet again, all material became special once Judy Garland got hold of it.